Navigation path

Countries
Countries
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Botswana
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Finland
  France
  Gambia
  Georgia
  Germany
  Ghana
  Greece
  Hungary
  Iceland
  India
  Indonesia
  Ireland
  Israel
  Italy
  Jamaica
  Japan
  Kazakhstan
  Kenya
  Korea
  Latvia
  Lichtenstein
  Lithuania
  Luxembourg
  Madagascar
  Malaysia
  Malta
  Mexico
  Montenegro
  Morocco
  Mozambique
  Namibia
  Netherlands
  New Zealand
  Nigeria
  Norway
  Panama
  Peru
  Poland
  Portugal
  Romania
  Russia
  Senegal
  Serbia
  Slovakia
  Slovenia
  South Africa
  Spain
  Sri Lanka
  Swaziland
  Sweden
  Switzerland
  Taiwan
  Tanzania
  Thailand
  Tunisia
  Turkey
  Uganda
  Ukraine
  United Kingdom
  United States
  Vietnam

Themes
Agriculture & food
Energy
Environment
ERA-NET
Health & life sciences
Human resources & mobility
Industrial research
Information society
Innovation
International cooperation
Nanotechnology
Pure sciences
Research infrastructures
Research policy
Science & business
Science in society
Security
SMEs
Social sciences and humanities
Space
Special Collections
Transport


   Countries

Last Update: 02-05-2014  
Related category(ies):
Information society  |  Health & life sciences  |  Success stories

 

Countries involved in the project described in the article:
Estonia  |  France  |  Germany  |  Italy  |  Norway  |  Spain  |  Switzerland  |  Turkey  |  United Kingdom
Add to PDF "basket"

Robots under the skin

A team of scientists in Italy have been working on a unique robotic surgery system. They hope that one day robots could take over the work of surgeons in operation theatres.

Photo of a demonstration of the robots
Video in QuickTime format:  ar  de  en  es  fa  fr  it  pt  ru  tr  uk  (17.9 MB)

Gianluigi Petroni is one of the biomedical engineers at the SSSA Biorobotics Institute, he describes one of the procedures that robots could soon be performing:

“The robot enters the patient’s body via the navel. We firstly insert a small capsule. Then the two robotic arms are inserted through this capsule one by one. Once inside, the robot is configured to be remotely controlled by the surgeon.”

The robot sends 3D pictures to help the surgeon execute precise, non-invasive surgery on delicate parts of the human body without any visible scar.

Luca Morelli a Surgeon at Cisanello Hospital in Italy says the technology could prove extremely useful:

“Single port access surgery – surgery with a single small incision – has very few applications today. This technology could help to increase the number of applications, allowing us to perform more complex surgeries on the liver or the pancreas, organs that are too difficult reach with this kind of surgery at the moment.”

Under the knife

Researchers are now making plans to bring the prototype into real operation theatres but before this can become a reality there are a few things which need to be ironed out, as Arianna Menciassi, another SSSA Biorobotics Institute engineer explains:

“Before the robot can be mass produced, we first have to think about how to sterilise the motors. We will also have to do more research on some of its mechanical features so that they can become more reliable and less expensive.”

Gianluigi Petroni adds:

“Miniaturising the robot will demand smaller motors that will use less power. But we need the robot to demonstrate certain strength for moving inside the human body. Solving this will be a huge challenge.”

Paolo Dario is the Coordinator of the ARAKNES project at the SSSA Biorobotics Institute. He spoke of their ultimate goal:

“A robotic surgery system has to be good, it has to meet realistic demands. It has to be reliable and not too expensive. But the technology has also got to be properly maintained so that the patients know they can trust it before going under the knife.”

Autonomy

But the European researchers are not content with developing robots to help surgeons with operations. They want robots to perform surgery on their own.

Moving to another research lab in Verona, euronews meets a group of scientists who think intelligent robots can be taught how to autonomously perform certain medical tasks like biopsies, incisions and suturing.

On show is a robotic arm that is being developed to puncture a model of a human abdomen on its own in search of a tumour in the kidney.

Researchers had to translate surgical techniques into numbers that were then transferred into the robot’s mechanical and software features.

Riccardo Muradore is the Control Engineer at the University of Verona where the robots are being developed, he says:

“We talked with surgeons to learn some of their techniques. But it is hard for them to accurately describe forces, speeds, the movements they perform during real surgery. So to solve this problem we also developed computer simulators to help us get the data we needed.”

Complications

The simulator helped the scientists to input realistic data to the robot to increase its understanding of different surgical scenarios and eventually to become more autonomous.

Monica Verga a biomedical engineer at San Raffaele Hospital has also been working on this project. She told us some of what they have achieved so far:

“This simulation helped us to define the requirements of a given surgery. But also to define some particular anatomical features of a kidney tumour: ‘how big is the average kidney tumour?’ or ‘what are the normal distances between human organs?’ We also tried to understand the biggest complications a surgeon can face during this kind of surgery, and how he might respond to those complications.”

Some researchers think surgeons will never disappear from operation theatres but see robots as a useful tool to increase the accuracy and efficiency of existing techniques.

Paolo Fiorini the Coordinator of the I-SUR project at the University of Verona says:

“A surgeon, a human being, is not always able to have the same perception, the same precision that surgical equipment and sensors can have. So an autonomous robot could eventually perform some surgical techniques while at the same time acquiring precise data that could complete what the surgeon can see and feel with his own eyes and hands.”

Science-fiction

Some surgeons say they are curious to see what autonomous robotic surgery systems could be capable of. One of those is Umberto Tedeschi, from the Verona University Hospital:

“We can see today how a robot is able to perform a biopsy on a tumour inside a human organ. But eventually robots could offer something more when it comes to treatment: they could even try to remove it, or give drugs or any other substances that could help to get rid of it.”

Researchers and surgeons agree this is no longer the stuff of science-fiction. That is why, they conclude, the evolution of robotic surgery has to be closely monitored.

Paolo Fiorini of the University of Verona says:

“In the future robotic surgery will provide tools that are less invasive, that will reduce trauma to the patients and will be more and more intelligent.”

Arianna Menciassi of the SSSA Biorobotics Institute says that the work they are doing now is really like science-fiction becoming reality:

“Future robotic surgery will look a lot like what writer Issac Assimov talked of in his book ‘Fantastic Voyage’.

“Some scientists are already doing research on magnetic guidance of tiny robotic capsules inside human vessels. These robotic capsules could eventually reach the most remote regions of our vascular system and could offer treatment. We’re not talking about current procedures with scalpels and forceps. If for example an illness is present in just a small group of cells, therapy could consist of electrical inputs, or magnetic fields or something similar”.

After 25 years of research robotic surgery looks set for a big leap, but will patients be willing to put their lives into the robotic hands of a computer?

Project details

  • Project acronym:ARAKNES
  • Participants:Italy (Coordinator), Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain, UK
  • FP7 Project N° 224565
  • Total costs: €11 205 672
  • EU contribution: €8 100 000
  • Duration:May 2008 - October 2010

  • Project acronym:I-SUR
  • Participants:Switzerland (Coordinator), Turkey, Italy, Estonia, Norway
  • FP7 Project N° 270396
  • Total costs: €3 961 967
  • EU contribution: €2 980 000
  • Duration:March 2011 - August 2014

Convert article(s) to PDF

No article selected


loading


Search articles

Notes:
To restrict search results to articles in the Information Centre, i.e. this site, use this search box rather than the one at the top of the page.

After searching, you can expand the results to include the whole Research and Innovation web site, or another section of it, or all Europa, afterwards without searching again.

Please note that new content may take a few days to be indexed by the search engine and therefore to appear in the results.

Print Version
Share this article
See also

Futuris, the European research programme - on Euronews. The video on this page was prepared in collaboration with Euronews for the Futuris programme.

ARAKNES web site

ARAKNES information on CORDIS

I-SUR web site

I-SUR information on CORDIS

Contacts
Unit A1 - External & internal communication,
Directorate-General for Research & Innovation,
European Commission
Tel : +32 2 298 45 40
  Top   Research Information Center