3 ways autonomous robots will transform future operating rooms

Researchers from organizations including Boston Children's Hospital and Johns Hopkins University are developing robotic technologies that aim to automate surgical tasks, according to The Wall Street Journal.

While surgical robots like Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci robot may offer surgeons more precise range of motion and control beyond human capabilities, researchers are exploring technologies and developing devices that could help automate repetitive tasks like suturing, according to the Sept. 10 report. 

Here are three ways health systems are researching and developing autonomous robotic surgery innovations.

1. Artificial skin. National University of Singapore and Intel Corp. researchers are creating a robotic silicon finger meant to mimic the sense of touch that surgeons need to identify organs, cut tissue and organs and apply the correct amount of force. In early tests this year, the device identified which of two similarly shaped objects was softer about 10 times faster than the blink of an eye.

2. Surgical sutures. Washington, D.C.-based Children's National Hospital and Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University researchers are developing the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot, which performs a colon anastomosis on its own; the procedure involved closing up a tubular structure and is completed by suturing the tissue back together. STAR features a machine learning-powered motorized suturing tool that rotates the needle through colon tissue automatically and can recognize the patient's breathing to apply the suture at the correct point.

3. Robotic catheters. Pierre Dupont, MD, pediatric cardiac chief at Boston Children's Hospital, and his team created a robotic catheter that can navigate on its own. The device uses a haptic vision sensor, which pulls images from a tiny camera and combines them with machine learning algorithms to discern whether a catheter tip is touching blood, tissue or valve. Automating the navigation allows the surgeon to focus on using the occlude, or small metal plug, to optimize valve repair.

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