Computer Motion awarded $2 million to combine surgical robotics with telemedicine

Santa Barbara 01 November 2001Computer Motion Inc., a developer of surgical robotic systems, has been awarded a $2.000.000 research and development grant from the Department of Commerce, National Institute of Standards (NIST), Advanced Technology Programme 2001 competition. Computer Motion selected Dr. Peter Schulam of University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Medicine, Dr. Ranjan Mukherjee of Michigan State University, and Dr. Steven Butner of University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), to collaborate on the development project that will combine surgical robotic systems with telemedicine to allow expert surgeons to closely guide in-training surgeons through complex minimally invasive surgical procedures.


The proposed system is based on the integration of four of Computer Motion's FDA cleared robotic surgical systems and features the ZEUS system modified to include two identical surgeon consoles with shared control of a single set of "arms" which are used to operate on the patient. Other significant developments to the system include "haptic" feedback so that in-training surgeons can actually feel their mentor's actions through the console controls and experience surgery through the hands of an expert. In September 2001, a specially modified non-FDA cleared ZEUS system performed the world's first transatlantic telesurgery. The system was used by surgeons operating from a console in New York to remove the gallbladder of a patient located in France.

Yulun Wang, Ph.D., Founder and Chief Technical Officer of Computer Motion and principal investigator of the grant stated: "Computer Motion has always believed that the development of a broad base of products which offer many benefits to our customers is of fundamental importance in creating a successful business." Dr. Wang continued: "We also believe that by combining forces with leading researchers at institutions like UCLA, UCSB, and Michigan State University, who will be working with us on this exciting project, we will be able to accelerate the speed with which we can drive new product research and development."

The title of the grant is "A New Concept for Minimally Invasive Surgical Training Using Robotics and Tele-Collaboration". The NIST Advanced Technology Programme (ATP) is a unique programme whose purpose is to accelerate the development of innovative technologies that promise significant commercial pay-offs and widespread benefits for the nation. As stated in the NIST grant proposal, the potential market opportunity for tele-collaboration in medicine and surgery exceeds one billion dollars per year.

Dr. Peter Schulam, chief of the division of endourology and laparoscopy at UCLA Medical Center and the lead clinical investigator of the grant, said: "Less invasive surgery brings significant benefits to patients including faster recovery times and reduced pain and trauma. However, the demand for surgeon training far outpaces the time that experts have to train surgeons in these new procedures." Dr. Schulam continued: "The shared-control robotic system to be developed with this grant will let experts give the fundamental physical interaction, that is critical for training, to more surgeons while eliminating the demand of travel time on their schedules."

Ranjan Mukherjee, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Michigan State University, stated: "Our NIST/ATP grant will give us the opportunity to develop a unique and novel robotic platform for telesurgical training and education." Dr. Mukherjee continued: "Using our novel control algorithm, two surgeons will be able to collaborate on a surgical procedure with shared and programmable control authority. This will represent a new paradigm in telesurgery with force feedback."

Steven E. Butner, Ph.D., Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of California Santa Barbara said: "This project is poised to make fundamental contributions in the teaching and mentoring of minimally invasive surgical techniques. The availability of equipment that will facilitate co-operation between student and mentor surgeons could revolutionise the way surgeons develop and learn new MIS procedures."

More news about the transatlantic telesurgery event which took place in September 2001 is available in the VMW October 2001 article Surgeons perform successful near real time telesurgery from New York on patient in France.

Leslie Versweyveld

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