Precision and Surgeon Comfort Inspire New Robotic Arm Controller
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on March 18, 2020 |
Researchers develop new robotic arm controller to enhance robotic-assisted surgeries.

Since the first robot-assisted surgery more than 25 years ago, innovations have made the number of surgeries using robotics soar. With the many advantages that robotics can bring to surgery, there continues to be disadvantages, especially when it comes to gripping comfort. Tokyo Institute of Technology researchers have developed a robotic arm master controller to help address that problem, as well as enhance the use of robotics itself.

The two main grips commercially available for robotic-assisted surgery, pinch and power, each has its own benefits. The pinch grip, the standard for centuries, uses the thumb, and middle and index fingers to complete movements. The power grip, which uses the entire hand to grab a handle, is ideal for larger movements that require less precision. Depending on the procedure, both methods could be beneficial.

During a robotic-assisted surgery, the surgeon controls the robotic arm with a controller device. The controller works to eliminate tremors and allows for smaller movements not possible with human hands alone. Although the grips currently available are ergonomically designed, many surgeons still experience discomfort and finger fatigue.

“In robotic surgery, the limitations of the two conventional gripping methods are strongly related to the advantages and disadvantages of each gripping type,” said Dr. Kotaro Tadano. “Thus, we wanted to investigate whether a combined gripping method can improve the manipulation performance during robotic surgery, as this can leverage the advantages of both gripping types while compensating for their disadvantages.”

A new robotic arm controller combines the two types of commercially available methods of gripping, pinch and power, to enhance precision and comfort during robotic-assisted surgeries. (Image courtesy of Tokyo Institute of Technology.)
A new robotic arm controller combines the two types of commercially available methods of gripping, pinch and power, to enhance precision and comfort during robotic-assisted surgeries. (Image courtesy of Tokyo Institute of Technology.)

In their study, the researchers focused on incorporating both grips into one master controller, allowing surgeons to take advantage of both methods while increasing comfort during procedures. Their modular controller allows for adjusting to use either type of grip or a combination of the two.

After testing the controller, the researchers found the results were promising. Using a pointing experiment, 15 participants were tasked with bringing the tip of a needle into target holes using the controller. The goal was to complete the task as quickly as possible without touching obstacles. Each grip type was used in different conditions, including using arm and palm rests, a handle, and pinch grip motion.

Researchers conducted a pointing experiment using a master console. (Image courtesy of Tokyo Institute of Technology.)
Researchers conducted a pointing experiment using a master console. (Image courtesy of Tokyo Institute of Technology.)

The option of having a combined grip proved to yield better results throughout the experiment, including a reduction in the number of obstacles touched, the time required to complete the task and movement length. According to the researchers, participants noted that the combined method was more comfortable and easier than using a single grip.

“The manipulating method of master controllers for robotic surgery has a significant influence in terms of intuitiveness, comfort, precision and stability,” Dr. Tadano said. “In addition to enabling precise operation, a comfortable manipulating method could potentially benefit both the patient and the surgeon.”

While this study is promising for its potential to enhance robotic-assisted surgeries, future research will be needed before any major advancements are made.

Interested in more innovations revolutionizing health care? Check out Neuralink’s Big Announcement and Neuroprosthetic Enables Tetraplegic Patient to Walk.


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