Robotic surgical systems such as the da Vinci X are very impressive, with their two arms that are controlled by the surgeon’s two hands. An experimental new system takes things even further, though, by adding two more arms controlled by the user’s feet.
The four-armed laparoscopic setup is being developed by scientists at Switzerland’s EPFL research institute.
Each of the user’s hands grasps a separate controller that looks kind of like a set of scissor handles. Utilizing these, it’s possible to simultaneously manipulate both of the main robotic arms, each of which can be holding a different primary surgical tool (such as a scalpel or retractor).
Each of the user’s feet, meanwhile, rests on a separate pedal. One of these pedals controls a smaller secondary arm which is holding an endoscopic camera, while the other controls another such arm which is holding a gripper. Actuators in both pedals provide haptic feedback, guiding the surgeon’s actions in such a way that they don’t apply too much force in delicate areas of the patient’s body.
Needless to say, operating four instruments at once could get pretty tiring, and confusing. For that reason, the system is capable of predicting some of the surgeon’s basic actions, and guiding their movements accordingly. If a knot is being tied in a suture, for instance, the endoscope can automatically move into a position to provide the best view, while the gripper can be moved out of the way.
“Our system opens up new possibilities for surgeons to perform four-handed laparoscopic procedures, allowing a single person to do a task that is usually performed by two, sometimes three people,” said Mohamed Bouri, head of EPFL’s REHAssist group.
Clinical trials of the technology are currently underway in Geneva. A paper on the system, which was led by PhD students Jacob Hernandez and Walid Amanhoud, was recently published in The International Journal of Robotics Research.
The system is demonstrated in the following video.
Robot assisted surgery with four arms
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