Surgical robots aren’t going to replace human surgeons anytime soon. But what’s better than to have a proof-of-concept for future possibilities in healthcare?
Meet STAR – Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot – an OT robot that has outperformed human surgeons in all trials. However, STAR was invented not to replace but to aide and empower human professionals for more successful outcomes and safety in complex surgeries.
STAR versus Other Surgical Robots
The use of industrial robots in medical procedures isn’t new and dates back to 1985. Since then, several strides were made before reaching STAR.
Orthopedic knee replacements, LASIK eye surgery, and hair transplants were being performed using robots designed to handle the fixed nature of targets such as leg bones, eyes and heads. These targets could be held in place and operated on perfectly.
Operating on soft tissue, however, is cumbersome due to the constant shifting of flesh layers during the procedure.
STAR solves this challenge by integrating Near-Infrared Fluorescent (NIRF) tags placed in the intestinal tissue; a specialized NIRF camera for tracking those markers; and, a 3D camera for recording images of the entire surgical field.
Combining the data from these instruments allowed STAR to lock focus on its target.
STAR is embedded with an AI module that makes its own decisions while navigating its arm during surgery. This level of autonomy makes STAR different from all other surgical bots in existence.
The Test Surgery
The final prototype of STAR was programmed and built to plan and operate a pig’s intestines. It stitched up the intestine with surgical precision in a procedure called intestinal anastomosis and did it just like how a conventional robot would do on conventional rigid targets.
In parallel, a group of human surgeons performed the same operation. STAR had almost perfect outcomes that were resistant to leak and done with clean precision.
The robot, however, did have human assistance occasionally. And thus the inventors concluded that the bot and human surgeons can work together to accomplish a much better result.
But what about STAR being an autonomous robot? The conclusion doesn’t disprove purpose of the machine, as per the inventors, since this only one of the first iterations in the bot’s architecture.
Human physicians can allocate all tedious, critical, and precision-intensive tasks to STAR while they take a break and monitor the surgery.
Medicine is propounded to crossover with automation entirely in the near future. As more and more bots such as STAR and da Vinci are becoming common in the OT, AI-based surgical robots would soon take over, reliably, the job entirely while you, the human surgeon, are out on a coffee break!