Researchers developed a wearable robotic system for minimally invasive surgery (also known as keyhole surgery) that will offer surgeons natural and dexterous movement, as well as the ability to sense, see, control, and safely navigate through the surgical environment. The need for better tools in robot-assisted minimally invasive surgery was identified to support and enhance the surgeon's performance in urology, cardiovascular, and orthopedic fields, and to expand the potential for this technology to more complex surgical procedures.
Biomedical tools that mimic complex human dexterity and senses will be developed based on clinical feedback. These can be worn by the surgeon, and transmit the surgeon's own movements to the closed surgical interface without restrictions. This will reduce the overall cognitive, manipulation, and training demand.
Three key pieces of hardware will be the starting points in developing the new surgical robotic system. Exoskeletons will fit over the surgeon's hands and control the instruments inside the body — a newly developed surgical gripper mimics the thumb and two fingers of the hand. The instrument, which goes inside the body, will have haptic abilities, allowing the surgeon to feel the tissues and organs inside the body, just like they do during conventional surgery. The wearable exoskeleton on the surgeon's hand will enable movement that is more intuitive as well as giving the surgeon the sense of touch. The sense of touch in this system will be dual: current research in haptic systems mainly focuses on the arm/forearm of the user. The system developed in this project will focus on haptic feedback on the fingers of the surgeon as well.
In addition, the researchers will develop smart glasses that enable the surgeon to have a realistic view of what is taking place inside the body while using the advanced robotic tools. The smart glasses will allow surgeons to position themselves anywhere in the operating theatre. The exoskeleton will record the position of the fingers and communicate this to the robotic tools inside the body using teleoperated technology. Surgeons will not be performing any unusual or unnatural movements — they will use their hands as they would in open-incision surgery. The smart, multifunctional glasses will relay live images from inside the body. Current systems use a flat TV-like screen to relay images back to the surgeon.
Rapid prototyping will be used to make prototype tools the surgeons will be able to test. The tools then can be adapted to the needs of different surgical procedures, and this user-centered design process places surgeons in the development stage of the system.