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Robot upgraded from assistant to surgeon

The Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot can perform laparoscopic surgery on the soft tissue of a pig without human help. Image credit:: Johns Hopkins University

A team of researchers at the John Hopkins University has for the first time demonstrated the capability of a robot to perform surgery with no aids/ control from a human surgeon, taking care of the planning as well as of the surgery, by analysing the exams and the goal to be pursued. This represents a tremendous advance and demonstrates the level of autonomy that can be reached in healthcare.

The robot is the STAR, a robot that has been around for several years now (watch the clip) and that has been continuously improved.

It has been used in a number of surgery on pigs (it has been approved for medical application only when guided by a human surgeon so far) to perform surgery of soft tissues. This type of surgery is more complex and tricky than surgery on bones, since the soft tissue changes its shape and the surgeon needs to understand the many variations that can occur.

The robot has been equipped with a variety of sensors, including digital cameras and infrared image detectors, to provide an artificial intelligence based control with the data needed to understand the operating field and take decisions.

The surgeries have been focussing on the anastomoses of the pig’s gut, a surgery performed in laparoscopy where the surgeon removes a tract of the gut and joins the two remaining parts. This surgery is tricky and requires a perfect sealing of the gut. Any leakage would result in infection. The robots demonstrated a skill that was judged better than the one of a surgeon resulting in more accurate stitching and no post-surgery complications.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.