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UK scientists create world's smallest surgical robot

UK scientists create world's smallest surgical robot article image

British scientists have developed the world’s smallest surgical robot which could transform daily operations for tens of thousands of patients.

The robot, called Versius, mimics the human arm and can be used to carry out a wide range of procedures in which a series of small incisions are made to circumvent the need for traditional open surgery.

These include hernia repairs, colorectal operations, as well as prostate, ear, nose and throat surgery. Such procedures reduce complications and pain after surgery and speed up recovery time for patients.

The robot is controlled by a surgeon at a console guided by a 3D screen in the operating theatre. Its maker Cambridge Medical Robotics says the robot is much easier to use than existing systems, and take up about a third of the space of current machines.

"Having robots in the operating theatre is not a new idea," said the company's chief executive, Martin Frost. 

"But the problem at the moment is that they are phenomenally expensive, not only do they cost $2.5 million each to buy but every procedure costs an extra $3,800 using the robot ... and they are very large."

Researchers used electronics from mobile phones to help the robot “think” and process information, and gear box technology originally designed for the space industry to help it move.

Greater range of movement

Robot arms are considered an improvement on human surgeons because they can have a greater range of movement than a human arm.

Surgical robots have the advantage of being able to operate at a distance, and they do not tire.

The Versius’ is modelled on the human arm. There are four wrist joints, rather than three in conventional surgical robots. 

The robot is controlled by devices that control the instruments similar to video game controls.

Cambridge Medical Robotics say the robot will be launched in spring next year and should be ready for operations by the end of the year. It is now working with a number of National Health Services-owned and private hospitals to introduce the robots.

The first surgical robot – the Puma 560 – was first used in 1985.

The current global market for surgical robots is worth about $4 billion a year, but this is expected to grow to $20 billion by 2024.

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