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Touch-Sensing Robot Avoids Obstacles While Surgeons Operate

Nabil Simaan, PhD, and a team of bioengineers at the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering are developing a new generation of surgical robots that have been endowed with an artificial sense of touch. The robotic tool resembles a pair of thin metal snakes with balljoints for multidirectional articulation. These snake-like robotic arms are able to sense when they have touched different types of tissues and can autonomously make minute adjustments so the operating surgeon can focus on the task at hand.

By teaching the robot to optimally manage the positioning of its “body” while allowing doctors to worry about the activity of the robot’s “head,” skilled surgeons can become even more accurate and efficient during the course of an operation. According to Dr. Simaan, “We can actually take something that’s now expensive in the way we’re doing surgery and we can maybe, with the help of new technology, simplify it, reduce trauma to the patient, and at the same time reduce health care costs.” (Wolf)