Emerging technology of surgical robotics

Posted: November 30th, 2013

Emerging technology of surgical robotics







Emerging technology of surgical robotics

            The emergence of robotic surgery within medical procedures developed to mitigate limitations and enhance surgeon’s capabilities simultaneously. The introduction of superior robotics in the performance of surgery has developed, over the years, to refine the surgical processes that have helped save the lives of many patients. This new introduction of technology to the hitherto conservative field of medicine has revolutionized the methods of treating chronic diseases and operation on fatal accidents. Surgical robotics has also had various effects on the societies and cultures in which it is practiced. The degree of embracing the new technology among hospitals and other health institutions has been largely successful based on the studies done on reduced surgical accidents.

History of the technology

Introduction of robotics to society 

Robotics is the study of the development of technology in designing, operation and manufacturing robots. The distribution of robots within the world is extremely focused in Asia, North America and Europe with Japan having the highest stake in robot technology at 30%. In the mid 1950’s, development of artificial intelligence at Massachusetts Institute of Technology marked the start of the robot technology. The first robots were simple machines with moving parts that performed mechanical tasks. In 1992, medical institutions started using Cyber knifes, which were robots that scanned patients for tumors and treated them with radiation. In 1999, heart revascularization procedures using Zeus robots were being performed. Later, bladder reconstruction, kidney transplants and cholecystectomies were being done partly by robots that applied the Da-Vinci surgical systems.

By 2002, the FDA had cleared the cyber knife for use in treating tumors using radiology in any part of the world. In 2012, the first operation of the femoral vasculature using robots was done. These robots were the first true robots that were guided by pressing buttons and not mirroring of surgeons’ hands. In this century, it was evident that humans and robots could co-exist though the invasion of technology among human societies has been met with slight resistance. This stems from the fears that robots might ultimately take over all the functions of men. An aspect relating to the increased unemployment has been cited as a key concern generated by the robot revolution (Faust, 2007).

Separation of science from science fiction

Robots featured in science fiction even before they were introduced into the society. References by playwrights in Czech Republic such as Karel Capek introduced robots as characters in plays and films. Authors such as Asimov Isaac published numerous books that touched on the relationship between science fiction and man. In his works, robots were placed in the human environment but operated as servants of men. The film industry has also embraced robot science fiction in some of their greatest productions such as Terminator, Robocop and the Matrix. Most of the robots in science fiction are portrayed as destroyers that bring tragedy and chaos as well as annihilating the human species for instance in the film Surrogates. These works of science fiction have created skeptic attitudes among the human race concerning the increased usage of robots.

The sensitivity involved in the performance of surgical operations made medical surgery a highly risky activity. Open surgeries were characterized by professional flaws such as doctors becoming wobbly during operations, inaccuracy and tissue trauma. The unavailability of surgeons within the world also created a crisis, as critical surgeries had to be put on wait across different hospitals. Robots were discovered to be more accurate and faster in coordinating and performing the actual operations. Computer-aided surgery was therefore developed to mitigate these risks and lower costs, as well as increasing efficiency of surgeons (Tulandi & Advincula, 2011).
Introduction of robotics to medicine

The earliest forms of robotic surgery involved the surgeon using one of two methods. The direct telemanipulator method involved using a telemanipulator that allowed the surgeon to perform his normal movements associated with the operation, while the robot arm executed these motions by use of end-effectors to achieve the real surgery. Computer-controlled systems were far more effective than their human controlled counterparts were. They involved the surgeon operating a computer to control the robot that would perform the surgery. This improvement developed the idea of remote surgery as the doctor could operate from anywhere in the world. Other actions such as rib spreading in open surgery have been complimented with autonomous instruments that increase the accuracy and eliminate tissue trauma (Lin et al, 2012).

The introduction of robotics in medicine has had a significant impact on the quality and efficiency of surgery. The development of minimal invasive surgery, unmanned surgery and remote surgery, are some of the outcomes of robot inclusion in medicine. Robotic surgery has proved to have several other advantages: smaller incisions, quicker healing and precision. Hospitals with robot systems have also registered faster patient checkouts, reduced blood loss and usage of pain suppressants. The cost of surgical procedures has however slightly escalated due to the expensive cost of robots. The long learning period cited by most surgeons is also another downside to using the robotic surgery method.


Robotic prosthetics 

Developments in technology have produced myoelectric arms that use suggestions from contracted muscles on the skin to control the prosthesis’s movement. This invention has fine-tuned the functionality of prosthetic limbs. The Boston Digital Arm also has an improved movement along different axes and an option of programming for better function. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory developed the Proto 1 and 2 that paved the way for robotic legs. These prosthetics use targeted muscle reinnervation (TMR) technology to sense the person’s need to move a muscle to track down its respective sensory are to control movement (DiGioia, 2004).

Artificial organs

Artificial organs are classified as man-mad devices that replace human organs to restore the person’s life to normalcy. The reasons for choosing artificial organs may include life support while pursuing transplants, a potential of improvement in the patient’s self-sufficiency and cosmetic surgery. Artificial hearts were first implanted in 1960 by surgeon Denton Cooley. The heart lasted the individual three days upon which a real one was found. Other successful artificial organs implanted into patients include brain pacemakers, prosthetics and artificial bladders (Matteotti & Ashley, 2011).

The shift from miniature robots to nano-robots in the diagnosis and therapeutic stages of providing treatment to patients in hospitals has indicated a clear embracing of advanced medical robotics. The introduction of imaging techniques, robotics and optics having CMOS technology allow doctors to observe the human anatomy thus reduce accidents arising from invasiveness of surgical actions. Diagnosis is also improved which can lead to the early discovery and treatment of pathologies. Nanotechnology offers the medical field an opportunity to merge micro robotic technologies and bioengineering with the availability of nanotools that fit unique scenarios.

Sociological effects 

Impact on societal attitudes towards surgical procedures

The attitude expressed toward the usage of robotics in aiding the medical processes has been received with both skeptic and welcoming feelings. Parties that support the inclusion of robots into the surgical operations argue that most of the surgeons who used the robots gave positive reports on their efficiency and accuracy. They also had high expectations that robot technology would be integrated into other aspects of medicine, as well. Surgeons commented that after highly experienced use with the technology, their overall skills improved significantly. Opponents of the notion of integrating technology in surgery claim that the robots are costly to acquire and as such, this drives up the cost of providing surgery to the public. Opponents of surgical robotics have also pointed out that although robots are efficient and faster, their inclusion does not reflect in an increased positive outcome among the patients that used the strategy (Lyons, 2011).

Robots are comparatively cheap to maintain to humans. They are also more efficient as is displayed by the accuracy in performing surgery. The introduction of robot technology in the medical field has been met with open hostility. Against the backdrop of the recession, most managers in America and other countries are seeking cost-cutting ways and robotics offers one of the best ways to do this. Currently, robots perform an ever-growing list of functions in the hospital. This multipurpose quality might be beneficial to the institutions but present a threat to security of tenure by surgeons and other practitioners. Although hospital managers argue that surgeons may still be required to run the machinery, low-level staff such as janitors, nurses and mail carriers can be replaced with robots in the near future.

Integrating robots into the medical field has led to an increase in the employment within robot manufacturing industries. By 1990, the U.S. robot-manufacturing sector was employing over 7,000 individuals. This number keeps on growing annually as the demand for medical robots increases. However, the introduction of robotic surgery has led to a slight decline in the job opportunities for surgeons, nurses and other health factors. The national job elimination estimates due to robots in America stood at 400,000 by 1995. Manufacturers of robots have claimed that the robots might displace some staff, but they will be absorbed through the creation of maintenance, supervision and sales tasks (Tsakonas et al, 2010).

Cultural context

            The approach towards having a positive attitude in embracing technology has been pushed by most governments and organizations, in a bid to construct an academic and professional path for the future of robotics. The robot has been singled out for three major roles in the future. The robot should support humans in their activities through collaboration to solve issues concerning aged populations and limited resources. The robot is also set to understand humans through artificial intelligence. Lastly, robots play a role of encouraging people to achieve their own objectives.

Robots have been applied in the development of children’s physical and mental disabilities. Developments into human-robot relationships have shown that complimenting child’s play with pre-programmed robots strengthens a child’s cognitive abilities. Robotic toys have also evolved into personal companions for human beings. Robots have evolved to possess care giving, bonding and socialization qualities with humans. Among children, this has already been successfully implemented.

Various education institutions have taken up robotics as their courses especially for the medical classes. Schools such as Centennial College, NJIT and Arizona University have embraced surgical robotic techniques in their course materials, fieldwork and curriculums. These universities have top-class facilities where they can replicate surgical procedures on dummies and therefore improve their surgery skills using robotics.

Robots in space

Outside the Earth’s atmosphere, robots are best adapted to perform most of the functions, as the journey may be risky for humans. The operations of robots in space possess some difficulties such as the high vacuum in outer space that eliminates the use of lubricants. The temperature shifts are extremely drastic, and zero gravity presents a problem to all objects including the robots. Robonaut, a humanoid robot developed by NASA possessed dexterity and capability similar to human astronauts. Other developments by NASA include the Sourjoner that provides for increased mobility and the option of remote control and the Flight Telerobotics Servicer (FTS) that assisted astronauts to assemble a space station (Hyland, 2008).

Media influence

The media had and still has an effect on how people perceive robots and technology. Early science fiction films, literature and newspapers, influenced how the populace received this new development. Most of the images created were those displaying robots as destructive and chaotic such as the famed movie, Terminator. The information on the possible surgical robotic technologies and the future projections is available to most of the academic sector. The progress in the development of surgical robotics has taken over twenty years. Over this period, doctors, professors and industrialists have published content revealing the ramifications, characteristics and impacts of robots in the society (Dasgupta, 2010).


Dasgupta, P. (2010). New technologies in urology. New York: Springer.

DiGioia, A. M. (2004). Computer and robotic assisted hip and knee surgery. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Faust, R. A. (2007). Robotics in surgery: History, current and future applications. New York: Nova Science Publishers.

Hyland, T. (2008). Scientific and medical robots. North Mankato, Minn: Smart Apple Media.

Lin, P., Abney, K., & Bekey, G. A. (2012). Robot ethics: The ethical and social implications of robotics. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Lyons D. (2011) Who Needs Humans? The Daily Beast. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/07/17/the-threat-of-automation-robots-threaten-american-jobs.html

Matteotti, R., & Ashley, S. M. (2011). Minimally invasive surgical oncology: State-of-the-art cancer management. Berlin: Springer.

Numao M. (2012) 50-Year Outlook of Robot Technology Future Vision and Technical Challenges. Retrieved from http://www.nm.cs.uec.ac.jp/assets/files/papers/numao.pdf

Tsakonas, E., Nkansah, E., & Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health. (2010). The Da Vinci surgical robotic system: A review of the clinical and cost-effectiveness. Ottawa, Ont.: Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health, Health Technology Inquiry Service (HTIS.

Tulandi, T., & Advincula, A. (2011). Emerging Technologies in Women’s Health Volume 1: Robotic Surgery in Gynecology. Sharjah: Bentham Science Publishers.

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