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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Robotic Surgeons Take Over at a Hospital Near YouPo

When steady hands are not precise enough, surgeons rely on sophisticated assistants.

The tool-wielding wrists of the da Vinci can rotate 540 degrees and have seven degrees of freedom, making the tools of the mechanical surgeon more dexterous than instruments held in human fingers.

Popular Mechanics - Published in the October 2009 issue.

Once considered oddities, multiarmed tools are becoming mainstays of hospital operating rooms. The industry trailblazer in the human–robot medical team is the da Vinci HD Surgical System, a multiarmed assistant that is directly controlled by a surgeon who sits at a nearby console. The system, made by Intuitive Surgical of Sunnyvale, Calif., has been steadily adopted by hospitals performing urology, gynecology and cardiology operations since the HD’s introduction in 2006. A new version of the da Vinci includes a powerful high-definition camera, a fourth arm for complex procedures, and dual control stations used for teaching new surgeons or to allow two doctors to collaborate during surgery.

Jim Hu, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, has removed more than 600 cancerous prostates with the da Vinci. He says that robotic assistance allows him to overcome the limitations of human doctors, allowing smaller incisions and less blood loss. The system even auto-corrects for any shaking as the doctor manipulates the tools from the console. But could the assistant one day operate without a doctor’s guidance? “Unless they develop artificial intelligence that can recognize variations in human anatomy, physicians will always be needed,” Hu says. “But who knows? If you had told me when I was in medical school in the ’90s that I would be using a robot to make incisions one day, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

Examples of instruments: