Minimal Invasion of the Robots

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Robot assisted minimally invasive surgery requires specialist DC positioning motor
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Bristol laboratory develops robotic assistants for performing minimally invasive keyhole surgery with precision and dexterity.

When submitting yourself for even a minor operation, you’d be forgiven for expecting the surgeon to have a long list of skills including good vision, dexterity and a sense of precision.

These are exactly the qualities Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) was looking for in its smart surgical SMARTsurg project to develop advanced RAMIS (Robot Assisted Minimally Invasive Surgery) technology.

Using robots in keyhole surgery offers many advantages compared to traditional Minimally Invasive Surgery, including improvements in those three important attributes of vision, precision and dexterity.

Domain Expertise

Such a demanding project isn’t something that can be achieved without using a wide range of expertise and the SMARTsurg project has taken on board a team of ten institutions across Europe made up of highly experienced clinical, academic and industrial partners.

To meet the exacting requirements of drive and position motors, BRL teamed up with precision motor supplier, maxon. The project makes use of maxon DC motors and controllers to drive and position the 3-finger surgical instrument that goes inside the body.

The instrument will be controlled by exoskeletons that fit over the surgeon’s hands. In addition, they will also develop smart glasses to allow the surgeon to have a realistic view of what is taking place inside the body. The team found maxon products were easy to use and offered the precision and high power density necessary for this application.

Online configuration

BRL used the maxon online configurator to select and configure the DCX 19 S brushed DC motor, GPX 22 gearbox and ENX 10 encoder.

Selecting and designing the maxon products online enabled the best fit package in terms of output torque, speed and encoder feedback. Physical dimensions could also be realised, simply and quickly including full technical details of the package published, including 3D CAD model, at the touch of a button. The maxon EPOS2 positioning controller and the CAN communication protocol were used to ensure each axis responds to commands from the master controller in terms of position, speed and torque.

The potential for the use of such technology in minor surgical procedures is very large but BRL nonetheless remains pragmatic.

According to Sanja Dogramadzi, Professor of Medical Robotics at BRL, whilst the popularity of RAMIS is steadily increasing, the potential for improving patient outcomes and the potential for other procedures is not fully realised, largely because of serious limitations in the current instrumentation, control and feedback to the surgeon.

“Specifically, restricted access, lack of force feedback, and use of rigid tools in confined spaces filled with organs pose challenges to full adoption. The development of robotic surgical platforms has introduced 3D vision and significant improvements in the levels of dexterity. Robot Assisted Minimally Invasive Surgery will reduce the demand on the surgeon, shorten training time and deliver accuracy, safety and reduced procedure time,” she explains.

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