The key to surgical robot design

November 17, 2016 // By Graham Mackrell
Many of us, if asked what we thought the three biggest causes of death in the United States are each year, would assume it to be the most talked about: cancer, gun crime and heart disease. Yet, surprisingly, the third leading cause of death is actually medical error, often during critical operations.

As a result, many medical institutions are becoming increasingly interested in the use of surgical robots to assist with invasive procedures and keyhole surgery.

A recent paper from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine calculated a rate of 250,000 deaths by medical error every year in the US. This, as the medical team identified in their open letter, would account for roughly ten percent of all US deaths in 2013 — a staggering figure, especially when you consider cancer accounted for 22 percent. Only cancer and heart disease cause more deaths.

It is for this reason that surgical robots are becoming more widely used in hospitals. With the help of these machines, surgeons are able to operate comfortably — often from a seated position — while also taking advantage of the improved accuracy. This makes even lengthy surgeries far easier to complete with a lower likelihood of error, while also boasting health benefits for surgeons that enable them to work into older ages. Patients also benefit from this, as robot-aided minimally invasive surgery often leads to less physical trauma.

However, in order for surgical robots to be able to offer these benefits, the machinery itself must be reliably precise with proven repeatability. Delivering this involves a lengthy — and challenging — design process in which robot manufacturers must not only create detailed plans that highlight any possible mechanical problems the machine may face, but how they will be prevented. In addition to this, manufacturers must also source high quality components that can meet and ideally exceed the project specifications.