January 14, 2012

Surgical robots to provide open-source platform for medical robotics research

In a basement on the University of Washington campus perch seven identical robots. Named Raven, each has two winglike arms that end in tiny claws designed to perform surgery on a simulated patient.

Soon the robots will be flown to campuses across the country, where they will provide the first common research platform to develop the future of surgical robotics.


Mary Levin, UW Photography. Three of the seven Raven II robots. Each one has a pair of tiny hands that are controlled by a surgeon and can operate on a simulated patient.




The original Raven robot was completed in 2005 and used for UW research on telerobotic surgery, in which commands are sent over the Internet.

The latest version, the Raven II, has more compact electronics and dexterous hands that can hold wristed surgical tools, like the newest commercial machines. A surgeon sitting at a screen can look through Raven’s cameras and guide the instruments to perform a task such as suturing. The system, while not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, is precise enough to support research on advanced robotic-surgery techniques.



The new robots were designed and built by Rosen’s group in Santa Cruz. The UW group built the electronics and software; undergraduates helped wire circuit boards, assemble the electronic components and perform tests.

The hope is that the common, open-source platform will allow research groups to share software, replicate experiments and collaborate. Participating schools’ specialties include:

* Harvard mechanical engineers working on “beating-heart” surgery, where a robot compensates for the movement of a beating heart so a surgeon can operate as if on a static surface.

* Johns Hopkins computer scientists working on image analysis, superimposing the surgeon’s field of view on standard medical images.

* UW research on force feedback, using machine intelligence to create barriers around things a surgeon needs to avoid, and attractive force fields around objects the surgeon wants to touch.

All projects are aimed at speeding up procedures, reducing errors and improving patient outcomes.

Four more universities are already in line to get the system. The original Raven robot will move to UW Medicine’s Institute for Simulation and Interprofessional Studies for use by medical researchers there.

"I see huge potential in surgical robotics for incorporating new instruments, more procedures, allowing for remote surgeries, and doing collaborative surgery between multiple surgeons in different locations,” said collaborator Dr. Thomas Lendvay, a UW associate professor of urology and a pediatric urologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “Having everyone working on the same, open-source robot will help to make these happen more quickly."
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