CITRIS researcher Jacob Rosen has been featured in the UCSC magazine Science Notes 2012. The article discusses how he and his colleagues are creating new methodologies in the field of robotic surgery.
Science Notes: There are more nerve endings in your fingertips than anywhere else in your body. Your hands and fingers have enough articulation to move in 30 different ways. For a long time, machines had nothing on our hands.
This was especially true in surgery, where skilled handiwork is still revered. But now, some surgeons sit behind the controls of a machine and operate without touching their patients. Tiny surgical instruments attached to a robot are flexible beyond human hands and wrists, a camera magnifies organs, and computer algorithms remove tremors that are inevitable when pure tendons and muscles hold instruments for hours.
The robotic system used in many hospitals is another tool to extend the surgeon’s reach. It enhances some aspects of the surgeon’s hands, but it also denies them an exquisite sense of touch.
Many doctors and patients already swear by the robot for urological and gynecological surgeries, while others are waiting for the next generation of surgical tools. Jacob Rosen, director of the bionics lab at UC Santa Cruz, is working on a new robotic approach—one that could restore touch to the craft.
Rosen’s research system, called the Raven, is lighter, smaller, and less expensive than today’s surgical robots. It’s also the first to run on open-source software, a radical departure from the closely guarded technology now in hospitals. After 11 years of minimally invasive abdominal surgery with robots, only one company controls the hardware and software used in all U.S. robot-assisted surgeries.
By freely sharing progress with other research teams, Rosen and his collaborators at the University of Washington hope to bring an engineer’s touch to the operating room.