I, Surgical Assist ROBOT

By Daniel R. Matlis

On February 13th, I had the pleasure to participate in a panel at Furness High School in Philadelphia to expose students to careers in science and technology.

One of the topics discussed was automation and robotics. Alicia B., a student at Furness, asked if I thought that we would ever see robots like those in the movie I,ROBOT?

My prediction was that in her lifetime, she will see autonomous robots.  Crazy, you might think, but many of the products you use today, from cars to computers and medical devices, are assembled by industrial robots.

I’m not taking about humanoids robots like Lieutenant Commander Data on StarTrek or the Humanoid Cylons on Battlestar Galactica. I am referring to robots that can duplicate the complexities of human motion and genuinely help people. One such example is Honda’s ASIMO. The robot took more than two decades of persistent study, research, and trial and error before Honda engineers achieved their dream of creating an advanced humanoid robot.

By now you are thinking, this is interesting Dan, but what does it have to do with the Life-Sciences industry?

Have you heard of Robotic Assisted Surgery?

Traditionally, surgeries had been performed in the open manner, in which large incisions were required for the surgeon to plainly observe and manipulate the surgical field. Large incisions translate into increased patient trauma, extended recovery time, prolonged pain management and elevated costs.

In the past two decades we have seen a transition in surgical technique to minimally invasive surgery (MIS). This less-invasive approach to surgical procedures, including endoscopic and laparoscopic techniques, is fast becoming the treatment of choice for patients around the world. Innovative surgical products and medical device technology coupled with life-enhancing procedures have made this revolution in the world of medicine a reality.

In MIS procedures, surgeons insert cameras and instruments in the patient’s body through small ports.

MIS has a couple of drawbacks for the surgeon:

  1. Using 2D monitor instead of looking at his or her hands, flattens natural depth perception (try grabbing an object in front of you while covering one eye)
  2. Using instruments through a scope can limit the surgeon’s dexterity (it can feel like operating with the proverbial 10 foot pole)

Since July 2000, the FDA has cleared Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci® Robotic-Assisted Surgical System for a wide variety of adult and pediatric procedures.

The da Vinci Surgical System consists of a surgeon’s console, a patient-side cart with four interactive robotic arms, a Vision System and Instruments. Powered by state-of-the-art robotic technology, the system seamlessly translates the surgeon’s hand, wrist and finger movements into precise, real-time movements of the surgical instruments inside the patient.

I,SURGEON it’s not, but can you imagine the offspring of ASIMO and da Vinci?

Let’s hope they don’t forget to program Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics”

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
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