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Project Brief

Open Competition 3 - Information Technology (September 2001)

A New Concept for Minimally Invasive Surgical Training Using Robotics and Tele-Collaboration

Combine surgical robotic systems with telemedicine using an unique shared-control algorithm to allow a mentoring surgeon to physically interact with an in-training surgeon from a remote location and, through haptic feedback, to guide the in-training surgeon through complex minimally invasive surgical procedures.

Sponsor: Intuitive Surgical (formerly Computer Motion)

950 Kifer Road
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
  • Project duration: 10/1/2001 - 9/30/2004
  • Total project (est.): $3,999,557.00
  • Requested ATP funds: $1,999,557.00

Computer Motion proposes to develop an advanced robot control system and architecture to enable an innovative training system that will allow surgical mentors to guide other surgeons and physically interact with them from remote locations. Good surgeons are students for life, constantly needing to learn new techniques as the surgical art is advanced. Traditionally this happens through mentors -- a surgeon already skilled in the new procedure personally guides the "pupil" through several operations, showing them the necessary movements and techniques. This becomes a problem in new, rapidly advancing surgical fields when there are nowhere near enough mentors to go around. One such is the rapidly progressing field of minimally invasive surgery (MIS), in which the surgeon works through small openings in the body using miniature cameras, small-scale instruments, and even surgical robots. Specialized robots allow the surgeon to operate in the tight confines of an MIS cavity with excellent precision and control. MIS offers reduced pain and trauma for the patient, improved cosmetics, and significantly faster recovery times. Over 2 million MIS procedures are performed annually in the U.S. alone. Computer Motion plans to advance the state of the art of surgical robotics and "telemedicine" with a unique robot control architecture and system that allows a mentoring surgeon and a "student" to simultaneously control a surgical robot performing MIS procedures. In the envisioned system, the student surgeon and patient would be in a surgical robotics unit, while the mentor could be thousands of miles away, using identical controls and communicating in real-time. Both could control the surgical robot, but the mentor could exercise varying degrees of "priority" control depending on the progress of the surgeon learning the new technique. A key innovation is a force-feedback system in the controls that gives each surgeon tactile feedback of the motions of the other -- exactly as if the experienced surgeon were holding the hand of the student and guiding it. Consultants from the University of California at Santa Barbara, Michigan State University (East Lansing, Mich.) and the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center will contribute to the project. Coordinating the two synchronized control systems, master and student, and integrating force feedback in a system designed to operate in real time over a long-distance data channel are major technical challenges going well beyond anything yet attempted in telemedicine. Although an industry leader in surgical robotics, Computer Motion is a small company and does not have the resources to pursue this project without ATP support. If successful, the technology will enable substantial cost savings for hospitals and health-care organizations by maximizing the training effectiveness of their top surgical staff and training opportunities for others. It should also significantly advance the field of MIS -- and the number of practitioners -- with corresponding benefits to patients and society, since MIS procedures dramatically lower costs through shorter hospitalization and recovery periods.

For project information:
Moji Ghodoussi, (805) 968-9600 x144

ATP Project Manager
Jayne Orthwein, (301) 975-3176

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