Certification for medical use is primordial for our research team to convince the clinical staff — as well as the patients — that robotics is safe and can be used in routine practice. Our vision is to improve the workflow on several levels and suppress obsolete drawbacks, such as unnecessary exposure to radiations, patient discomfort, long procedure time, and poor imaging quality. We are striving towards the acceptance of this technology transition, where robots are used in direct contact to the patients, not only for medical imaging, but also for active surgery. Our team is currently using the KUKA LBR Med manipulator in several research projects, such as ultrasound-guided kyphoplasty to repair vertebral microfractures, as well as liver biopsy for oncology.
Before talking about robots, let us describe the qualities of humans. Medical doctors and clinicians have a tremendous amount of knowledge and intuition, which is absolutely crucial and irreplaceable. They are the decision makers in complex situations. On the other hand, robots benefit from a nearly absolute precision and reproducibility. In surgical scenarios involving factors such as sub-millimeters accuracy and constraints on procedure time, autonomous and/or collaborative robotics have become a necessity. As an example, our vision of the future embraces the deployment of teleoperation robotics, where one expert surgeon can remotely assist several critical cases across the country — or even worldwide.
From our point of view, technical issues are not the primary obstacle. Instead, the most challenging aspect is acceptance of the technology by the public, the patients, but most importantly by the clinical practitioners. To establish robotic procedures in the clinical routine practice of an hospital, safety and accuracy of the hardware and software are a necessity, but it is not enough. Instead, the most crucial part of our work is to cultivate a deep and intimate collaboration with clinical partners, to fully understand the workflow and clearly identify the unmet needs. This is the only way that the robotic solution we propose is not a disturbance, but a true added value.
Concluding, we bring together the expertise of two labs, one company, and a clinic, to serve a medical purpose that has potential to make the life of patients better.