Researchers at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) are developing a wearable robotic system with haptic feedback for keyhole surgery, allowing surgeons to use natural and dexterous movement in their surgery, while being able to sense, see, control and safely navigate through the surgical environment.
The research project will be led by Professor Sanja Dogramadzi from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory.
Keyhole surgery is replacing the traditional open-access approach to surgery, due to its advantages including reduced blood loss, fewer infections and faster recovery. While traditionally, keyhole surgery has required the use of laparoscopic tools, engineers are now looking to replace these with advanced robotic systems. To this end, they are developing better integrated vision, precision and ergonomics for these robotic systems.
According to Professor Dogramadzi, better robotic tools will deliver improved performance
in urology, cardiovascular and orthopaedic surgery, expanding the potential for the technology to be used in more complex surgical procedures.
Based on clinical feedback, the team will develop modern biomedical tools that mimic complex human dexterity and senses. These can be worn by the surgeon, transmitting the surgeon’s movements to the closed surgical interface without restrictions.
The system will consist of three key pieces of hardware. Exoskeletons that fit over the surgeon’s hands will control the instruments inside the body. The surgical gripper will mimic the thumb and two fingers of the hand, and also have haptic abilities, so the surgeon can “feel” the tissues and organs inside the body.
By using a wearable exoskeleton as the control interface, the surgeon will be able to operate with more intuitive movements. Additionally, the haptic feedback will apply both to the arm and forearm of the user, while also supplying haptic feedback on the fingers as well.
Completing the system will be smart glasses that relay live images from inside the body, allowing the surgeon to have a realistic view of what is taking place inside the body while using the robotic tools. The surgeons will be able to position themselves anywhere in the operating theatre.
According to Professor Dogramadzi, the exoskeleton will record the position of the fingers, and communicate this to the robotic tools inside the body using tele-operated technology.
“We want to give existing processes a more natural interface - operating surgeons will not have to do any unusual or unnatural movement,” Professor Dogramadzi explained.
“They will be able to use their hands as they would in open incision surgery. This also means that training to use the robotic technology for surgery will be quicker.”
The team will use rapid prototyping create prototype tools that can be tested by surgeons, allowing rapid iteration of designs and changes according to real-world feedback. This approach will allow the researchers to adapt tools to the needs of different surgical procedures, and place the surgeons at the heart of the development process.
“We hope our research into designing this wearable system will help to expand the range of surgical procedures that can use robotic assisted systems so that more patients and hospitals can gain the benefits from this type of surgery,” said Professor Dogramadzi.