This robot keeps the doctor away

Scientists, doctors and technology companies are developingportable robotic units that can perform complex surgical proceduresremotely from any location.

Imagine emergency open-heart surgery being performed by a robotsurgeon in an ambulance parked on a street. This might be a realpossibility in a few years.

“When the mock surgery was a success, we realized a portablerobotic unit would be a viable option,” said Dr. MehranAnvaridirector of the Centre for Minimal Access Surgery.

In the future, a multi-armed robot would perform the operationunder the direction of a surgeon manipulating endoscopic camerasfrom a remote workstation.

The robot would act as the eyes and arms of the surgeon.

This type of portable robotic unit is being developed by theCentre for Minimal Access Surgery (CMAS), a Hamilton, Ont.-basedresearch institute, in partnership with Bell Canada, which isproviding the advanced telecommunications needed for theproject.

The portable robotic unit is being touted as an importantachievement in tele-surgery that involves sophisticated robotsmimicking a surgeon’s hand movements from a distance.

“Robots have been used in operations where surgeons have beenpresent in the same room. With this unit, it will be the first timea robot would be operating when the surgeon is at a differentlocation,” said Harvey Stein, senior director of solutionarchitecture at Bell Enterprise Group.

“Our target is to complete this project in the next five years,”said Dr. Mehran Anvari, director of the CMAS.

He said the portable robotic unit would be used in spacemissions, war zones and other environments where access to surgeonsis extremely difficult. “It may also be used in remote regions ofthe Canadian North, [from] where the government spends millions ofdollars to transport patients to city hospitals,” said Anvari.

The development of the robotic unit is part of a bigger missionthat began three years ago as a partnership between the CMAS, NASA,the Canadian Space Agency, and several technology companiesincluding Bell Canada and Cisco Systems.

Dubbed NEEMO 9 (NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operation),the coalition has been working to test the efficacy of tele-surgeryin outer space.

A key goal of the NEEMO 9 coalition was assembly of a roboticunit that would allow physicians to perform surgery remotely inouter space. In April this year, a mock surgery was conducted at alaboratory station 67 feet (20 meters) below the sea near KeyLargo, Florida.

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