Future robots will perform surgery in remote locations

May 8th, 2008 - 2:03 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, May 8 (IANS) Robots may possibly play more complex roles in future such as performing surgeries in remote or dangerous locations like the battlefield or in space. Duke University engineers have taken the first concrete step towards realising this space age future, based on feasibility studies conducted in their lab.

On a more immediate level, the technology that they have developed could make existing medical procedures safer and better for patients.

For example, a rudimentary tabletop robot, whose “eyes” used a 3-D ultrasound technology, took real time information, processed it and gave the robot specific commands. An artificial intelligence (AI) programme served as the robot’s “brain.”

“In a number of tasks, the computer was able to direct the robot’s actions,” said Stephen Smith, director of Duke University Ultrasound Transducer Group and senior member of the research team.

“Given that we achieved these early results with a rudimentary robot and a basic AI programme, the technology will advance to the point where robots - without the guidance of the doctor - can someday operate on people.”

Advances in ultrasound technology have made these latest experiments possible, the researchers said, by generating detailed, 3-D moving images in real-time.

The Duke University lab has a track record of modifying traditional 2-D ultrasound - like that used to image babies in utero - into the more advanced 3-D scans.

After inventing the technique in 1991, the team also has shown its utility in developing specialised catheters and endoscopes for real-time imaging of blood vessels in the heart and brain.

In the latest experiment, the robot successfully performed its main task: directing a needle on the end of the robotic arm to touch the tip of another needle within a blood vessel graft.

While the research will continue to refine the ability of robots to perform independent procedures, the new technology could also have more direct applications.

The results of a series of experiments on the robot system directing catheters inside synthetic blood vessels was published online in the journal IEEE Transactions on Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics and Frequency Control.

A second study, published in April in the journal Ultrasonic Imaging, demonstrated that the autonomous robot system could successfully perform a simulated needle biopsy.

“Currently, cardiologists doing catheter-based procedures use fluoroscopy, which employs radiation, to guide their actions,” Smith said. “Putting a 3-D ultrasound transducer on the end of the catheter could provide clearer images to the physician and greatly reduce the need for patients to be exposed to radiation.”

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