Robotic surgeons get open source boost

University of Washington's upgraded robot, Raven II, will provide the first common research platform for campuses across the country.
Written by Chris Jablonski, Inactive

Raven II Instrument (Credit: University of Washington)

Raven II Instrument (Credit: University of Washington)

The cost and complexity of commercial robot surgeons has meant slow penetration in the market and to only one player--Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci.

But that could all change if researchers at the University of Washington (UW) carry out their plans to accelerate innovation in surgical robotics.

UW researchers will do final testing and then ship their latest version of robots named Ravens to five universities, including Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The Raven II machines have more compact electronics and dexterous hands that can hold wristed surgical tools that are too difficult for surgeons to hold with their own hands. Using a display, a surgeon can look through Raven's cameras and guide the instruments to perform a task such as suturing.

The software running the robots is interoperable with the Robot Operating System, a popular open source robotics code. Once installed at each campus, the Robots will be connected to each other via the Internet to allow for data sharing and collaboration.

"With everyone working on the same, open-source platform we can more easily share new developments and innovations," said Blake Hannaford, a UW professor of electrical engineering.

The system, funded by the National Science Foundation, is not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but is precise enough to support research on advanced robotic-surgery techniques, say the UW researchers.

"I see huge potential in surgical robotics for incorporating new instruments, more procedures, allowing for remote surgeries, and doing collaborative surgery between multiple surgeons in different locations," said collaborator Dr. Thomas Lendvay, at Seattle Children's Hospital. "Having everyone working on the same, open-source robot will help to make these happen more quickly."

The short clip below illustrates the articulation of the instruments:

For more information and to track the project, head over to the Raven 11 Dev Blog.

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