Prosurgics collaborates in pan-European project to develop technology for future neurosurgical robotics

High Wycombe 17 April 2008Prosurgics, an image-guided surgical robotics company formerly called Armstrong Healthcare, is participating in a major new collaborative project. ROBOCAST - ROBOt and sensors integration for Computer Assisted Surgery and Therapy - is a 4,5 million euro collaborative project supported under the European Commission's 7th Framework Programme. The 3-year goal is to demonstrate advanced methods and technologies in a proof-of-concept system focused on minimally invasive, robot-assisted neurosurgery.

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The ROBOCAST project outcome will be a system for the assistance of the surgeon during keyhole interventions on the brain. It will have a mechatronic part and an intelligence part. The mechatronic device will consist of a robot holding the instruments for the surgeon and inserting them in the brain with a smooth and precise controlled autonomous movement. The trajectory will be defined by the intelligence of the ROBOCAST system and will be approved by the surgeon, which is and remains the responsible of the outcome, before the insertion of the surgical instruments.

Leading clinical, commercial and academic partners from four countries are collaborating to develop the ROBOCAST demonstrator system. Part of Prosurgics' involvement will be to supply a modified Pathfinder Neuro robot which will carry a fine positioning arm for intra-operative manipulation.

Amongst the advanced features of ROBOCAST are optical trackers monitoring patient movement, an imaging neuro-endoscopic camera, and electromagnetic position and force sensors mounted on the surgical instruments. Integration of these sensors will extend robot perception by providing the control system with position and force feedback from the operating tools, and visual information of the surgical field.

Path planning outside and inside the body will be autonomously managed by the ROBOCAST controller, informed by pre-operative and intra-operative imaging and sensor readings. Advanced planning of the surgical path within the brain will be achieved with the help of a risk atlas, in the form of a "fuzzy" representation of the brain in which structures are identified and assigned a related level of risk if compromised. Construction of this atlas will be based on a cognitive learning engine, which will interact with the surgeon to optimise the interventional plan. Semi-autonomous plan updating, responding to changes that occur during surgery as detected by intra-operative sensors, will be proposed by the system to the surgeon for final decision making.

The challenges that the ROBOCAST project must face are numerous. Up to now many robotic systems, usually tele-controlled, have not been accepted in the operating rooms. The reasons are that they did not give enough advantages to the users with respect to the inherent disadvantages. These were mainly the high cost, the long time required for setting up, the huge size and the poor integration within the standard instrumentation present in the operating room.

The biggest challenge of the ROBOCAST project is thus to be accepted in the operating room and to give to the surgeon a high valuable reward for its acceptance. A small versatile robot will be used thanks to a closed loop control based on a multi-sensor - optical and electromagnetic - that will gather information about its position in space. Thanks to a strong interaction with end users - which are part of the consortium - information provided by the ROBOCAST system will be integrated with other data already available in the operating room.

Current planning of the path of surgical instruments will be executed by an intelligent planner based on surgeon experience and on modern medical images. This will dramatically save operators time and reduce possible errors in planning. A new biomimetic surgical instrument will be tested. It will be able to travel along completely arbitrary paths inside the brain reducing the possible damage to neural tissue.

More information is available at the ROBOCAST project website.


Leslie Versweyveld

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