This is a great accomplishment and will likely pave the way for all kinds of robot-guided surgeries, all of which, when perfected, can help minimize invasive procedures and improve patient recovery and care. The key challenge will be getting patients to understand that the robot isn't actually performing the surgery--it's just another tool in the surgeon's medical bag.
Ann, I know this is a great step forward in surgery. On the other hand, I am always a bit squeamish about such things when I think about them.
It does get a little dicey when you realize that this is software controlled. I know that is essential, but it does give one pause. Of course, the traditional way relied on the human brain, and didn't that program the software? Well, I guess we just need to get used to it.
One thing this does remind me of is the medical robot in the Star Wars movies. Future, here we come.
As cool as this is, I would be afraid of some sort of malfunction on the part of the robot. Building my car and doing dangerous work so soldiers don't have to is one thing, but tinkering with my brain is quite another. I'm all for robotic advancement, but I draw the line here. If the time comes, I'm leaving my brain in the hands of a properly trained, human, surgeon.
Jennifer, I totally agree with you. There are so many different things that can go wrong like Naperlou stated the robot contains software this adds the risk of software bugs. Then there is hardware with failure risks due to things like counterfeit components just to name one. I have spend most of my career designing mission critical circuits for things like aircrafts where we design with the intent or desire to never have failures but we know in reality failures occur.
I think the discussion of relative risk is an interesting one: I'd love to see some comparative statistics. A robot is a lot simpler than a human, so there's less to go wrong, and also much more predictable. Plus a human brain programmed it, so one would think there's less likelihood of error, especially if medical apps use the kind of software reliability controls that military apps do. A human might have had less sleep, a secret drinking habit, or an argument with his/her spouse that morning before surgery, any of which could cause errors. I suspect there's more likelihood of error with the human, as Chuck has implied elsewhere in his comments about human "rogue" drivers vs predictable robot drivers. OTOH, this robot is under the control of a human all the time, as Beth points out.
As a mechanical and optical servo guy, it started me thinking about what I would have to change to make my systems be so reliable and TOTALLY avoid the kind of motions and errors that a surgical control device must have total control over. It's scary. Hats off to the Germans for getting their feet wet in this arena. I am sure there are many following close behind. Awesome!
I have to admit that I, too, am a little squeamish about this. The sentence that caught my eye was: "...the robot is then rigidly attached to the patient's spine via a mounting platform." I'm troubled by the words "rigidly attached" and "mounting platform." In conventional back surgery, do doctors rigidly attach some kind of platform? How does it attach? And if we're talking about brain surgery, what does it rigidly attach to there? The skull? On second thought, please don't tell me. I don't want to know.
OK - here is something that sticks in my craw. So many things that are simply remote control get the "robot" label.
Regardless of the fact that this machine is so technically advanced and a fantastic tool for surgeons......my question is "does it truly operate as a robot? - or is it remote control?" Looks to me like it might actually fit the robot definition??
Well, I think it's almost a robot in the sense that the software is controlling the robotic motors at the time of surgery. You could say it's the same as the "robots" that build cars, right? But certainly no artificial intelligence or autonomy as the headline might imply. The doctors probably press a "next" button (like a remote control) to move to the next position that was pre-programmed by the doctors earlier.
Personally I'm more impressed with the imaging systems. Maybe that's "old" technology, but I didn't know they could so perfectly create 3D models of live patients and then recalibrate positioning (matching each vertebra) once the framework is attached to the patient. Cool!
But it was hard to watch. I'm definitely going to start taking better care of my back!
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