Surgeons Kinect with robotic tools

Electrical engineering students at the University of Washington (UW) have adapted Microsoft’s videogame hardware Kinect to provide doctors with force feedback when undertaking robot-assisted surgery.

When surgeons currently use robotic tools during operations they have no direct sense of touch, something electrical engineering graduate student Fredrik Ryden and his team decided to change. Ryden wrote a piece of code to allow the Kinect hardware to map and react to environments in three dimensions, sending spatial information about that environment back to the user – in this case the surgeon.

"For robotics-assisted surgeries, the surgeon has no sense of touch right now," Howard Chizeck, UW professor of electrical engineering told The Daily of the University of Washington. "What we're doing is using that sense of touch to give information to the surgeon, like 'You don't want to go here.'"

"We could define a force field around, say, a liver," Chizeck said. "If the surgeon got too close, he would run into that force field and it would protect the object he didn't want to cut."

This project is part of a larger research effort at the department’s BioRobotics Lab to improve surgical robotic methods. Chizeck hopes to integrate this feedback system with other projects to create a robotic platform that will save lives in emergency situations.

"Suppose there's an earthquake somewhere. First responders could get victims to a van with a satellite dish on top and the tools inside, and a surgeon somewhere else could perform the surgery,” he told the paper.

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