medical robotics

Robotic surgery is one of the most exciting areas of medical technology because it promises more accurate, minimally invasive methods of treating injuries. With the robotic system, tiny tools can make their way through hard-to-reach parts of the body, performing their work with less pain and less blood loss. As a result, hospital stays, recovery times and physical scarring are all decreased. Is robotic technology the future of medical science?

Currently there are three types of robotic surgery systems: Supervisory-Controlled systems, Telesurgical systems and Shared-Control systems. Supervisory-Controlled systems (a.k.a. Computer Assisted Surgery) are the most automated of the three. The surgeon undertakes considerable prep work, inputs data into the robotic system, plans the course of action, takes x-rays, tests the robot’s motions, places the robot in the appropriate start position and oversees the robotic action to ensure everything goes as planned. The most famous prototype is the RoboDoc system developed by Integrated Surgical Systems, which is commonly used in orthopedic surgeries.

The Telesurgical type of robotic surgery system involves having a human direct the motions of the robotic system. The Da Vinci Surgical System, developed by Intuitive Surgical, is the most popular type of robotic telesurgical devices. The $1.5 million system is comprised of a viewing and control console, as well as three or four robotic arms. After the surgeon makes three or four incisions as small as a pencil, three or four stainless steel rods are inserted, with robotic arms holding them in place. One of the rods contains two endoscopic cameras, which provide the internal images to the human surgeon, and the other rods have surgical tools that may dissect, suture or perform other actions. Sitting at the viewfinder, the surgeon never touches the instruments directly, but instead directs the actions using a joystick to complete the surgery.

The Shared-Control System is the final category of robotic surgery devices. In this system, the human does the bulk of the work, but the robot assists when needed. In many cases, the robotic system monitors the surgeon, providing stability and support during the procedure. Before getting started, the surgeons program the robots to recognize safe, close, boundary and forbidden territories within the human body. Safe regions are the main focus of the surgery. Close regions border easily damaged soft tissue and the boundary is where soft tissue begins. As the surgeon nears these dangerous areas, the robot pushes back against the surgeon, or in some cases, when the forbidden zone is reached, the robotic system actually locks up to prevent any further injury. Shared-Control systems might work best for brain surgeries, where the surgeon provides the action but the robot arm steadies the hand.

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