British scientists have developed the world’s smallest surgical robot which could transform everyday 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 laparoscopic procedures – including hernia repairs, colorectal operations, and prostate and ear, nose and throat surgery – in which a series of small incisions are made to circumvent the need for traditional open surgery.
The robot is controlled by a surgeon at a console guided by a 3D screen in the operating theatre.
Although surgical robots already exist, the new creation is much easier to use, takes up about a third of the space of current machines and will be no more expensive than non-robotic keyhole surgery, according to its maker Cambridge Medical Robotics.
“The problem at the moment is that they are phenomenally expensive – not only do they cost £2m each to buy but every procedure costs an extra £3,000 using the robot – and they are very large. Many hospitals have to use the operating theatre around the robot. Their size can also make them difficult for the surgical team to use.”
For robots to revolutionise surgery, he said, they need to be versatile, easy to use and small so that surgical staff can move them around the operating room or between operating theatres, or pack them away when they are not being used.
“Our robot does all of this and is the first robotic arm to be designed specifically for laparoscopic surgery,” Frost said.
One of the key benefits of the robot is that it works like a human arm and contains technology that detects resistance to make sure the right amount of force is used when the instruments are inside the patient.
“Whereas traditional industrial robotic arms are large and the wrists have three joints, our robot is the same size as a human arm and has four wrist joints, giving the surgeon an unprecedented level of freedom to operate on the patient from whatever angle they want, versatility and reach,” Hares said.
To create this sophisticated and state-of-the-art device Versius’s creators 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.
The robot will be launched next spring and, once surgeons are trained, it should be available for procedures on patients by the end of next year.
The current global market for surgical robots is worth approximately $4bn a year but this is expected to grow to $20bn by 2024.