Even as physician-guided surgical robots such as the Da Vinci are becoming commonplace, Duke University bioengineers have unveiled a robot that may one day be able to perform an autonomous biopsy:
Feasibility studies conducted by Duke University bioengineers have demonstrated that a robot - without any human assistance - can locate a man-made, or phantom, lesion in simulated human organs, guide a device to the lesion and take multiple samples during a single session. The researchers believe that as the technology is further developed, autonomous robots could some day perform many more simple surgical tasks.
To make it work, researchers fitted an existing robot arm with a custom ultrasound system that serves as the robot's "eyes." Some clever artificial intelligence software runs the show, gathering three-dimensional data in real time, processing that data and then giving the robot commands to perform.
Apparently the software-hardware combo works reasonably well:
In the latest series of experiments, the robot guided the plunger to eight different locations on the simulated prostate tissue in 93 percent of its attempts. This is important because multiple samples can also determine the extent of any lesion, Smith said.
The above video shows the arm in action, so to speak.