Medical technology is getting weirder by the day. But I mean that in a good way. Take the iKnife for example. It’s a surgical knife that actually vaporizes tissue, and then analyzes the smoke that comes out so that a surgeon can know if she’s cutting into cancerous cells, or healthy margins. Or what about mechanical leeches? They pretty much do what medicinal leeches do, only with less chance of a bacterial infection and a lot less…writhing.
There’s only so much improvement you can do to a tool before you eventually have to turn your attention to the hand that holds that tool. And that’s where robotic surgery comes in. So do you remember the autonomous surgery pod in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus? How far away are we from something like that? Well, not as far away as you might think.
You see, robotic surgery and computer-assisted medicine are already doing amazing things right now. And the potential for what they could do in the future could change medicine forever! One of the most common surgical robots is the da Vinci line. Da Vinci is focused on translating a surgeon’s control movements into direct action upon a patient. So every time a human moves, the robot moves. Unless of course a T-Rex happens to be walking by, in which case the robot actually filters out any of those little hand tremors. So that way you get pure control. No error.
Another advantage of robot surgeons is the chance for telesurgery. So lets assume that you’re some sort of futuristic penguin research scientist and you’re on assignment off the coast of Antarctica, when suddenly you need an appendectomy. But your ship is completely trapped by ice and your ship’s surgeon has been, I don’t know, kidnapped by ice pirates or something. What do you do? Well essentially you Skype it in. A surgeon on the mainland sits down at a terminal and supervises robotically assisted telesurgery via satellite uplink.
Another advantage is minimally invasive procedures. Now see traditional open surgery can leave big scars, they can take a long time to heal, and there’s a lot of pain involved in recovery. But what if instead of making a four inch incision in your stomach, we were able to do the same procedure using instruments put through little half-inch holes. Now human doctors have been doing minimally invasive procedures for years, but honestly there’s only so much human hands can do through these tiny holes in your skin. But robotic precision means those incisions have gotten smaller and smaller over time. And if we continue through this miniaturization rabbit hole, who knows? Maybe one day there’ll be barely a notion of what an in-patient procedure is.
Now the future for robotic surgery is wide open. Just take a look at what people have created with the Raven line. This is an open-source robotic surgeon and, sure, it looks like a couple of mechanical spider arms, but the important thing here is research. You see it creates a common platform for people to do experiments which will determine the future of robotic surgery.
But beyond all that, instead of just talking about robotic assisted surgeries, lets talk about their full potential. We’re talking autonomous robot surgeons. With machine learning, a robot surgeon could potentially study all the information from successful procedures in the past and apply that to learn how to do those procedures in the future. And if they prove to be as good or better than human surgeons, maybe we wouldn’t even go to hospitals to have surgery. Instead if you expected to have a surgery, you might buy a robot surgeon for the home, or for the office, or for the spacecraft.