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Researchers to develop ‘wearable’ robotic tools for surgery

17 March 2017

A collaborative team of researchers is to develop 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 €4 million research project, funded by the European Commission under the HORIZON 2020 scheme, will be led by Professor Sanja Dogramadzi from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) and UWE Bristol, with nine partners including North Bristol NHS TrustBristol Urological Institute and the Translational Biomedical Research Centre (TBRC) at the University of Bristol, led by Director, Professor Raimondo AscioneProfessor Chris Melhuish, Director of BRL is also involved in the project.

Minimally invasive surgery for some clinical applications is replacing the traditional 'open access' approach, and has been associated with patient benefits such as reduced blood loss, fewer infections and faster recovery. More advanced robotic systems have the potential to replace laparoscopic tools for keyhole surgery in several clinical areas if developed with integrated better vision, precision and ergonomic systems.

Professor Dogramadzi and the pan-EU research team have identified a need for better tools in robot-assisted minimally invasive surgery to support and enhance the surgeon’s performance in urology, cardiovascular and orthopaedic fields and to expand the potential for this technology to more complex surgical procedures.

The researchers will develop modern biomedical tools based on clinical feedback that mimic complex human dexterity and senses. 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, which will control the instruments inside the body – a newly developed surgical 'gripper' which 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 current prototype has been developed by researchers at Bristol Robotics Laboratory - Dr Antonia Tzemanaki and her supervisory team Professors Dogramadzi, Pipe and Melhuish.

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.

Further information

For further information see the full press release

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