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Domo Arigato, UH Roboto

Engineering professor looks to make surgery safer and cheaper with robotics

University of Hawaii, engineering professor

Size does matter — when it comes to robot-assisted surgery, says Peter Berkelman, an engineering professor at the University of Hawaii. Berkelman and his team have spent the last four years designing a compact surgical robot system that will make abdominal procedures easier and safer. He says his robot is also a fraction of the size of current systems, significantly cheaper and portable. His prototype still needs to gain FDA approval, which means several years before it could be licensed for commercial sale. But it should retail for somewhere between $100,000 to $200,000 — a bargain compared to the $1.5 million price tag for current models.

How it Works

Berkelman’s prototype, pictured here, is stationed over the patient where it can do such things as make incisions and suture. A series of surgical tools, which are controlled by a simple two-joystick system, are attached to the robot’s arms. The robot also has an advanced camera, which allows the surgeon to view internal tissues on an external video monitor during surgery, without the need for a surgical assistant to manually hold and guide the endoscope.

Key Advantages

The lightweight, easy-to-assemble system doesn’t occupy additional floor space or obstruct access to the patient. Because of
its reduced size, it can also be cleaned by autoclave, a pressurized sterilization device, which is used in most hospitals. The larger systems on the market today would need specialized sterilization. The robot also eliminates surgical risks due to physician fatigue or error, particularly in longer, more complicated procedures.

Cool Features

Physicians can easily maneuver the robot’s endoscope during surgery using various hands-free mechanisms, such as voice recognition and a foot control switch. The system also features an easy-to-use touch-screen interface and a fail-safe mode that automatically shuts the robot down if the system detects any errors.

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Hawaii Business,October