Refined eye movements could improve medical robots

Georgia Tech researchers have replicated muscle-controlled eye movements to control cameras that could be used to improve MRI-guided surgery and robotic rehabilitation.

The work could be useful for research studies on human eye movement as well as making video feeds from robots more intuitive.

The research involves biologically inspired technology--a piezoelectric cellular actuator--that allows a camera to move more like a real eye. Piezoelectric materials expand or contract when juiced with electricity, which can be translated into motion. Their use in robotics, however, has been limited, according to a Georgia Tech announcement.

"The actuators developed in our lab embody many properties in common with biological muscle, especially a cellular structure," said Ph.D. candidate Joshua Schultz, who is conducting the research. "Essentially, in the human eye muscles are controlled by neural impulses. Eventually, the actuators we are developing will be used to capture the kinematics and performance of the human eye."

The work was presented last month at the IEEE International Conference on Biomedical Robotics and Biomechatronics in Rome.

Schultz, under the direction of assistant professor Jun Ueda, has developed a lightweight, high-speed approach that uses a single-degree-of-freedom camera positioner that uses less energy than traditional models and provides more flexibility. In the future, they want to test the design in a multi-degree-of-freedom device for applications from industrial robots to intelligent devices that can be used in care settings such as nursing homes.

Use of da Vinci robots in particular has become common for heart, gynecology, urology and general surgery.  They use a camera that provides 3-D magnified vision, allowing surgeons to control the arms performing intricate tasks. A recent study found that when there were complications with the minimally invasive technique, they're more likely to be due to factors other than mechanical failure, such as patient age or body mass.

There are about 1,000 robots in hospitals now, but 10 times that number could be in service in five years, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year. Not only are they expected to be aiding in medical procedures, but also performing menial tasks such as delivering linens and medications.

In a recent commentary, Kent Bottles, a senior fellow at the Thomas Jefferson University School of Population Health, called robots one of the trends medical leaders can't ignore.

To learn more:
- read the story
- here's the WSJ article

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