The Corpus Callosum

Update on Remote Robotic Surgery

There has been talk of this for a while.  At first, I did not
think it would be feasible, but it appears that progress is being made:

at a Distance

By Jacob Rosen and Blake Hannaford
Robot surgeons promise to save lives in remote communities, war zones,
and disaster-stricken areas

On a hot morning this past June, our research group at the University
of Washington, in Seattle, crammed into two cargo vans and drove 2000
kilometers south to the rangeland north of Simi Valley, in southwestern
California. In the back of one of the vans was our latest creation: a
prototype surgical robot we’d been developing for the past
four years. Our mission was to field-test the robot—by
operating not on a person but rather on latex objects mimicking human
organs, with a surgeon commanding the robot from a control console 100
meters away…

…Launched from the ground, a small drone was sent to fly in lazy
circles above us. Video from the camera near the robot was compressed
by special hardware into MPEG format and beamed to the plane, which
relayed the feed to the monitor below. At the same time, motion
commands from the surgeon’s console were bounced through the
plane to the robot, which responded only a fraction of a second later,
performing such tasks as tying suture knots…

…The idea of robot surgeons may conjure visions of
C-3PO–like androids clad in scrubs excising appendixes, but
existing systems and those being developed by our group and others are
actually more like robotized laparoscopic instruments…

…The robot’s control system uses a standard PC running a
real-time operating system based on Linux…

So far, the system can only be used for minimally-invasive surgery, so
it could not be used for treatment of major trauma.  Plus, the
results with satellite links has been disappointing, which is why they
use an unmanned aerial vehicle for the link.

The IEEE site that carries the article has a snap poll, asking readers
if they would be willing to undergo robotic surgery.  Most of
their readers would do so.  Presumably, though, most of their
readers have some degree of comfort with machines.


  1. #1 Mark
    October 18, 2006

    One Atlanta hospital is advertising robotic heart surgery. They also offer other types of robotic surgery. Prostate and hysterectomy are mentioned. I don’t know exactly what “robotic” means in their context, and I assume the surgeon is in the immediate presence of the surgery. However, if it can be done with the surgeon right there, it can also be done with the surgeon in the next room. And if it can be done with the surgeon in the next room …

    It seems to me this type of surgery would be useful for small, remote hospitals that don’t have experts in some of the more complex surgeries. Some such hospitals already use television for consultations with hospitals in larger cities.