During minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, surgeons manage tools while the procedure is performed through a mini camera which is inserted through incisions. Invariably, such surgical procedures have proved to be safe and secure for patients as well as doctors. Such is the event of the past now.
In recent times, surgical robots are the regular aspect of such modernized operating rooms to sight for, since great assistance is unleashed to surgeons when latter are empowered to manage a vast array of tools at a single but with an even refined flexibility, precision and with towering control which can hardly be imagined in traditional times with techniques of past years.
But, somewhat a downside to robotics, such robotic structures are huge enough to occupy the entire floor of a room and tools which they manage, are big and hard too, in comparison to soft tissues and structures which they have to deal through, through surgical procedures.
As a resolving initiative taken quickly in the year 2018, Mr. Robert Wood, PhD and who is a faculty member at Wyss Associate joined hands with Hiroyuki Suzuki, who is an eminent Robotic engineer at Sony Corporation and resulted in developing a new, miniature structure which is inspired by origami, regarded as mini-RCM (remote centre of motion manipulator.
This robot is considerably smaller than others appeared in the past series, measuring a tennis ball in size and is ultra-light in weight say like a penny and displayed mock surgical performance with great success, this is all, what is reported recently in Natural Machine Intelligence issue.
Mr. Suzuki blooms with joy when he states, ““The Wood lab’s unique technical capabilities for making micro-robots have led to a number of impressive inventions over the last few years, and I was convinced that it also had the potential to make a breakthrough in the field of medical manipulators as well,”. He expresses excitement on the successful accomplishment of the project.
Small Robots Are Tasked With Small Tasks
The duo, Mr. Suzuki and Mr. Wood, while preparing to put forth miniature surgical robot, got by the Pop-Up MEMS technique of manufacturing which is a concept of Wood’s lab itself and whereby contents are arranged one upon the other in form of layers and are glued together, following which the structure is exposed to a laser-cut that is in specific pattern and the shape of 3-dimension is thus formed (pop-up) as is required for, just like pop-up taking place in children’s books.
Without doubt, with such a technique in place, large scale production of structures that are small and complex, is simplified, which would be a tedious task, if it was done manually.
The pivotal structure of the robot has been determined to be the shape of a parallelogram, after which, three linear actuators (mini-LAs) are fabricated which control the robot’s motion: like one runs parallel to the bottom of the parallelogram to enable raising and lowering with ease, then one is placed perpendicularly to the parallelogram to ensure swift rotation and finally, one placed at the top of parallelogram to enable simple extension and retraction of tool(s) that are in use.
As an astonishing outcome, robot is designed and developed, pretty tiny in size and lighter in weight than any of microsurgical devices ever made in academic learning.
Arguably, such miniature LAs are a big draw in itself, with a piezoelectric ceramic material at the middle ensuring shape change on being charged with electricity.
On the principle of a running train, any modification in shape gives a thrust to small LAs comprising “runner unit” that quickly triggers “rail unit” further, thereby forming a linear motion to ensure robot movement.
Since piezoelectric matter starts losing form due to change in shape, they also included optical sensors into the mini-LA which are LED driven and notice and rectify any change from the expected course, like occasional shivers in hand movement.
Surgeon’s Hands Are Found Lacking Steadiness
Phantom Omni device was taken into use when mini-RCM was linked to it, in a bid to create a scenario similar to real time tele-operated surgery. The device managed the mini-RCM against any response generated thereby.
Initially, a test was conducted to verify man’s prowess in chasing a square smaller in size than the tip of a pen and glanced through a microscope and either pursuing it using hand or with the use of mini-RCM.
As a mark of excitement, with mini-RCM tests in place, users’ precision soared manifolds as errors were brought down by 68% when compared with operations done without RCM or manually. Such (aspect of efficiency) is regarded as greatest virtue since one has to repair small and otherwise soft structures present inside the human body.
Tested against tracing, once mini-RCM reflected success, scholars felt emboldened enough to design a replica form of certain surgical operation which is called retinal vein cannulation, wherein a needle is inserted by a surgeon meticulously into the eye and therapeutics are injected into veins present at the rear of eyeballs.
Then, silicone tube was constructed which was similar in size as the retinal vein i.e. doubled the thickness of human hair and with a needle placed at the end of the mini-RCM, it was pierced into, but without any major damage or disturbance.
No doubt, that other than the required degree of competence achieved in carrying out delicate surgeries, the mini-RCM’s compact size also uncovers yet another advantage, which is its utmost simplicity in its installation and in case of any problematic scenario, the robot can easily be pulled out from patient’s body.
Mr. Wood, who is also Charles River Professor Of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard’s John A Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), cheerfully proclaims, “The Pop-Up MEMS method is proving to be a valuable approach in a number of areas that require small yet sophisticated machines, and it was very satisfying to know that it has the potential to improve the safety and efficiency of surgeries to make them even less invasive for patients”.
Clearly, the researchers’ efforts are condensed to enhance the underlying force of robot’s actuators so as to withstand maximal pressure as is received during any surgical procedure and also to refine its precise positioning.
Furthermore, additional set of efforts are also put to carry on a laser test with a shorter pulse in the backdrop of a machining process, simply to try to upgrade mini-LA’s sensing resolution.
Meanwhile Don Ingber, MD, PhD and who is also the founding director of Wyss Institute, rightfully acknowledges, “This unique collaboration between the Wood lab and Sony illustrates the benefits that can arise from combining the real-world focus of industry with the innovative spirit of academia, and we look forward to seeing the impact this work will have on surgical robotics in the near future”. He is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, and Professor of Bioengineering at SEAS.
In mini-RCM, there are placed three linear actuators (LAs) to control it and this enables its multidimensional movements and also handles the hand tremors as well as other sort of disorders, when a tele-operation is performed. Credit solely goes to Wyss Institute at Harvard University.