Surgical Tribune Europe

Surgical robot systems to gain more autonomy

By Surgical Tribune
October 05, 2020

KLAGENFURT, Austria: An important sub-area of minimally invasive surgery is interventional radiology. At present, robotic systems are only used to hold and position surgical instruments. A research project, led by the Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt, will now explore more advantages of surgical robots and increase their autonomy to support surgeons.

“At present, robots used in surgery can only limit or correct human actions”, explained project leader Dr Jan Steinbrener from the institute of smart systems technologies. In order to move one step further, considerable and not only technological challenges have to be overcome.

“Imagine an operation on soft-tissue areas, which can often entail unforeseen organ movements. Using the current technology, the attending surgeon has to be constantly watchful so that he or she can intervene if something goes wrong. This means that the benefits of automation are severely limited”, Steinbrener continued.

Therefore, a safe and effective robotic system must not only be able to perform the task under challenging and constantly changing conditions, but must also recognise when human intervention is necessary.  “If the perceived uncertainty of the robot exceeds a defined threshold value, the robot must detect this reliably and alert a supervising surgeon,” said Steinebrener. Regardless of the technological challenges, legal and ethical issues must also be considered in this context.

The aim of the project is to lay the foundation for the next generation of robotic surgery systems with level 2 autonomy or higher. This would require research and development work on many levels, such as artificial intelligence, to ensure that images and potential image errors are correctly interpreted.

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