If Playing God taught us anything, it's that surgeons with shaky hands and crippling prescription painkiller addictions are not long for their profession. That's why robots like the Da Vinci have assumed the lead in delicate laparoscopic procedures.
But their electronic joints' sharp movements can be just as damaging to a patient's innards in the hands of an inexperienced surgeon. And at $US2 million a pop, the Da Vinci is only available at a select number of hospitals. But a newly unveiled competitor developed at Tokyo Tech aims to beat the Da Vinci at its own game, at a tenth of its price.
Created by Associate Professor Kotaro Todano of the Precision and Intelligence Laboratory and his team at the Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech), the remotely controlled laparoscopic robot consists of a two part master-slave system just like the Da Vinci. The surgeon dons a VR headset and manipulates the machine's controls from the master station which transmit commands to the robot on the slave end.
But rather than control the robots motions electronically (which is like having a robot do "The Robot" against the inside of your abdominal wall), the team instead powered their device's movements using inflatable air bladders. Not only does this give surgeons more natural force feedback (and consequently gives the robot a gentler touch) than the electronic variety, it allows the device to be built smaller, more compactly, and at a fraction of the cost of the Da Vinci.
The research team estimates it will cost between 10 and 30 per cent of the more expensive machine when it arrives on the market in about five years. If they can actually pull that off, millions of people in developing countries will have access to this cutting edge procedure and the shorter recovery times it affords. [PhysOrg, Robohub, Digi Info]