KidsArm Pediatric Surgical Robot Inspired By Space Station Technology

April Flowers for – Your Universe Online

Since Robby the Robot captured our imagination in the 1956 classic film “Forbidden Planet,” children (and adults) have been fascinated, a trend that doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

Today, in fact, the field of robotics is moving beyond the realm of fiction and toys. Today, robots are even lending a hand in the operating room, helping pediatric surgeons with intensive surgical procedures.

The new robot, KidsArm, was designed by the same companies that developed the robotic arms used to build the International Space Station (ISS). KidsArm allows surgeons to quickly navigate to surgical sites within the body with an advanced imaging and control system that makes it extremely precise. The robot was also designed to explore the idea of automating certain demanding tasks in minimally invasive pediatric surgery, which has been challenging for doctors.

“Our tests indicate we can operate on tiny structures such as blood vessels without damaging them,” Thomas Looi, the project director the Hospital for Sick Children Centre (SickKids) for Image-Guided Innovation & Therapeutic Intervention in Toronto, Canada, said in a NASA statement on Wednesday. “The goal of robotic arm is to help doctors perform certain procedures many times faster than if they were only using their hands and with increased accuracy. Some of this would be done autonomously. While we are not quite there yet, KidsArm is able to perform three to five suture points autonomously.”

SickKids collaborated with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, Ltd. — the company which designed both the robotic arms used to build the ISS and the robotic systems aboard the station — to create KidsArm. The ISS robots – Canadarm, Canadarm 2 and Dextre – are all computerized heavy lifters and maintenance performing robots that have been crucial for building and maintaining the station, as well as docking other spacecraft.

The KidsArm platform is being tested in a research environment at SickKids in an effort to develop technologies related to minimally invasive automated anastomosis — the union of tubular structures such as blood vessels to each other or to surfaces. The robot uses camera-based tracking of tissue and desired suture points, automated positioning and automated application of sutures. The results of this study will inform the next level of development for the robot.

KidsArm is the first robotic surgical arm developed with an eye towards delicate pediatric specialties, including cardiac surgery, fetal surgery, and urosurgery. The tabletop module is operated via a pair of hand controllers in conjunction with high-precision, real-time imaging technology that allows the surgeons to pinpoint areas of concern. This makes it easier to reconnect delicate structures and vessels.

“Advanced technologies such as imaged-based tissue-tracking and robotic platforms help us select suture points and [follow] these points so that we can compensate for the tissue motion that sometimes makes these surgeries difficult,” said Looi. “A stereo camera generates a 3-D point cloud. This is a set of data points that guide the tool tip and apply a series of sutures. KidsArm pushes the envelope using advanced imaging to identify suture locations. This allows the surgeon to automate suturing small vessels and other microsurgical tasks.”

The key elements of KidsArm are the vision based system that can function in an autonomous manner to form the brains of the platform and the focus of the research; an external positioning system outside of the patient; and a surgical arm that reaches into the patient. The external positioning system has a human arm-scale industrial robot customized to support the surgical arm, while the surgical arm is made to be as small as possible and still retain all the functionality needed for positioning and suturing.

The goal of the KidsArm research is to create more consistent outcomes for patients, and give surgeons the ability to intervene earlier or perform smaller-scale manipulations than are currently possible.

“The collaboration of leading medical researchers at SickKids and the engineers at MDA has enabled the rapid creation of a platform to explore one possible way we can make the next big leap in less invasive treatment,” said Dr. James Drake, chief of neurosurgery and lead for the CIGITI. “It is especially exciting that this work is most relevant to children. Our belief is that this kind of teamwork is important to enable the creation of clinically relevant solutions that often require the latest in technology. It’s incredibly satisfying to see technology that originated with the space program be brought to bear on issues that are so close to home.”

“The application of advanced sensing and the integration of this information into a platform to enable precise action is an exciting way to accurately improve healthcare delivery,” he added. “KidsArm will continue to evolve this concept.”

The research team presented their preliminary findings with KidsArm at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc./Robotics Society of Japan International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS), a robotics conference in Tokyo.


FOR THE KINDLE: Space Technologies on Earth: redOrbit Press