A robot has performed the first surgery without humans.
A robot has performed the first surgery without humans to guide it. It is a "delicate and complex" intervention in which two ends of the intestine of a pig had to be connected. According to the researchers, this step represents a significant advance towards fully automated surgery in humans.
The protagonist is STAR, a robot designed by a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University that had already shown that it could successfully perform gastrointestinal interventions in pigs. However, he had to make a sizeable external incision to access the intestine and still required some human guidance.
A robot surgeon is "significantly better than humans."
In the most recent tests, an improved version of STAR applied the laparoscopic technique (which only requires small incisions through which the instruments necessary for the operation are inserted) in four pigs for an intestinal anastomosis, and the procedure was successful.
The researchers explain that intestinal anastomosis is a procedure that requires a high level of precision and repetitive motion to connect the two ends of the intestine. Even the slightest tremor in hand or a poorly placed point can trigger severe complications, they explain, which is why specialist surgeons must have high precision and consistency.
However, the new version of STAR has proven to be prepared for this type of challenge in animals. It incorporates specialized suture tools, an improved imaging system that includes a 3D endoscope, and its new autonomous control system that adapts the surgical plan in real-time based on the often unpredictable movements of soft intestinal tissue.
One of the pillars of STAR is a tracking algorithm based on machine learning. "We believe that an advanced 3D machine vision system is essential to making intelligent surgical robots smarter and safer," says Krieger.
The operating room, an increasingly robotized site
Decades ago, it seemed like a science fiction concept to think of a robotic presence in the operating room. However, technological advances have shown us otherwise. Sophisticated systems like Da Vinci allow surgeons to expand their vision, precision, and control capabilities across multiple procedures.
Although also, projects such as the one at the University of Oxford are emerging, which has already successfully carried out the first traditional retinal operations. Although these have required human assistance, they open the door to new forms of treatment in the field of ophthalmology.
And on the other hand, there are also projects like that of some researchers from the University of California who, in collaboration with Intel, wanted to teach a robot to suture. The technique? The robot, powered by an image recognition artificial intelligence system, learned from public videos of surgeons suturing.