Upgrading surgery: the robot revolution

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Stewart Goulding, managing director at drive system supplier EMS, discusses the rise of robotics in surgery.

Large swathes of industry are implementing powered and robotic applications to ensure high-quality repeatable processes. Hospital and medical professionals are also keen to implement these applications, especially with the current pressure on the medical system.

There are many factors escalating the growth of surgical robotics and equipment in the medical sector — from the level of training required to qualify as a surgeon and the taxing work hours to the reduced cost of automation.

A skilled profession
It takes 16 years to fully train a surgeon — this is a long-time, especially when, for example, it takes four to five years to fully train an engineer. Obviously, the first avenue to explore would be to reduce the amount of time it takes to train in the industry.

However, just like the engineering profession, the continual growth of new knowledge and the vast body of expertise and information already needed makes reducing training time nearly impossible.

At the same time, in the UK there are over 4.3 million people waiting for an operation, with research showing that the number of surgeries required per year is continually increasing. This means that other avenues must be explored.

Stewart Goulding, managing director, EMS, believes the first general medical robot could arrive in the next five to 10 years

Tooling a cure-all solution
Improving surgeon tools is one such option. Despite hacksaws and scalpels being reliable surgical tools, the growing number of procedures on the surgical table means that surgeons require tools that offer high levels of control and precision, time and time again.

Another factor driving the growth of surgical robots and equipment is that the increase in the number of surgeries is having a negative impact on the surgeon’s own wellbeing. Longer periods spent in the operating theatre are leading to medical professionals, especially orthodontic surgeons, suffering from fatigue and leading to painful back, neck and wrist conditions. These conditions can shorten careers and keeping surgeons healthy is clearly a top priority.

Pairing these factors with the continual lower cost of robotic and powered applications means there is currently a hotbed for the creation and implementation of new medical and surgical applications.

As such, surgical robotics and equipment present a key tool to better manage and prolong the career lifecycle of these talented individuals. It is, therefore, crucial to improve the tools at their disposal and surgical robots and powered equipment are two important methods that achieve this.

The future is robotic
One major aim of the surgical robotics industry is to develop general medical robots that can perform a host of different clinical options. However, many design barriers must be overcome before this can become a reality. The robots must be adaptable, meaning they must have extremely precise actuation so they can adapt to new situations.

Another major development in this field is the type of control mechanisms becoming available. For example, virtual reality applications are making large strides in becoming more versatile and precise. Control mechanisms of this sort could show surgeons never-before-seen details to help drive surgical precision.

As robots become cheaper to design and develop, it is likely that we will begin to see the first general medical robot in the next five to 10 years.

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