A mechanical engineer at Purdue University is to build robots that could make an operating procedure less expensive and versatile to boot. Reserachers are also thinking of incorporating tactile sensors into these robots so that delicate tissue can be better felt and conditions better diagnosed.
"Robots don't perform the surgeries, but they are tools that give the surgeon more dexterity," said William Peine, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. "They let you get into confined spaces. You can eliminate hand tremor, and you can be very precise and delicate. It's as if the tips of the instruments become your fingertips." The robots that are currently in operation theaters require extra input and a large operatory set-up and consume unnecessary time. "For some surgeries, you need a complex robot, but for many surgeries you do not. You wouldn't take an Indy racecar to the grocery store. What you really want is a hand tool that has robotic capability so that a surgeon could be in the middle of a procedure and be able to bring in the robot," Peine said. Robots can also be used to manipulate thin probes such as those used in laparoscopy. "If I move the handle up, the tip moves down inside the body. If I move it down, it moves up, left and right are reversed. But a robot can understand all the mechanics and compensate for them, eliminating the fulcrum effect," Peine said. These robots can also perform movements or surgeries that call for fine dexterity. In prostate cancer surgeries some nerves are inadvertently damaged causing incontinence and impotence, "The robot can reach into the area very precisely and avoid those nerves," Peine said.