Healing Patients Through Robotics
Haptic feedback, or the feeling of a surface through robotic technology, has many applications. For example, the virtual “click” of the newest Blackberry is a simple application of haptics, since users feel a button clicking that exists only in a virtual realm. In medical robotics, haptics allows surgeons to “feel” tissues and anatomy, even though they are controlling surgical robotic arms instead of being in direct contact with the patient. Research in haptics, led by Katherine J. Kuchenbecker, the Skirkanich Assistant Professor of Innovation in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, is enhancing and improving upon the function of current medical robots.
Kuchenbecker’s work is unique in its quantitative focus on human experience and its dynamics-based approach to improving the feel of haptic rendering. She works to accomplish these goals through understanding human upper-limb movement in work with the Center for Human Modeling and Simulation (HMS) and through careful identification of the electrical, mechanical, and biomechanical dynamics of the systems involved, In addition to collaborating with other researchers across Penn Engineering, Kuchenbecker has close ties to the Medical School, working with surgeons there to improve the feedback that physicians receive from medical robots, especially in the force and tactile information that they are able to “feel” when operating.
This research will not only improve upon existing robotic surgery devices but will also enable enhanced surgical simulators to present a safe and potentially effective method for surgical training. Furthermore, these technologies can even be used in robot-assisted surgery for pre- and intra-operative planning.
In the end, improving haptics in medical robotics translates into a better outcome for patients because of the enhanced feedback to physicians, the increased accuracy of procedures, and the steadying of tools in surgery. This all leads to less invasive procedures, therefore causing less trauma to the patient and decreasing the time needed to recover. Perhaps one day, most surgeries will be done through a robotic interface that provides high-fidelity haptic feedback to the surgeon.
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