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Research and Academics
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New Robot with Force Feedback Promises Better Surgery
A Dutch researcher has developed Sofie, a surgical robot that provides a surgeon with tactile feedback, so he or she can “feel” the pull of a suture or the force of an incision.
By Robotics Trends Staff - Filed Sep 30, 2010

Sofie, a new surgical robot, provides surgeons with tactile feedback. (Photo: Bart van Overbeeke)

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TU/e researcher Linda van den Bedem developed a compact surgical robot that uses “force feedback” to enable a surgeon to feel what he or she is doing. Van den Bedem intends to market Sofie, an acronym for the Surgeon’s Operating Force-feedback Interface Eindhoven.

Robotic surgery makes it possible to perform highly complicated and precise operations. But surgical robots have limitations. For one, the surgeon does not feel the force of his or her incision or the pull on the suture. What’s more, robots are big and clumsy to use. 

Van den Bedem last week obtained her PhD degree at TU/e (Techniche Universiteit Eindhoven, in the Netherlands) for a new type of surgical robot, Sofie. More specifically, she was awarded the title for the “slave” of the robot, the robotic section performing the operation at the table, for which she built a prototype.

One of the distinctive properties of Sofie is the force feedback, or tactile feedback, in the joysticks with which the surgeon operates. This counter pressure enables a surgeon to feel exactly what force he or she applies when making a suture or pushing aside a bit of tissue. The finishing touch, the control of the force feedback, is being developed.

Sofie is also compact and therefore less of an obstacle in the operating theater and above the patient. Its small dimensions come with an added bonus: Sofie’s slave is not on the floor, but mounted on the operating table. This eliminates the need to reset any equipment when the operating table and the patient are moved or tilted. Further, Sofie makes it possible to approach an organ from different sides, and can even operate around a corner. Van den Bedem built the robot with assistance from TU/e’s technical department. The university has patented the technology.

Van den Bedem is building a business case with colleagues to explore Sofie’s commercial potential. Still, Van den Bedem says surgeons are very enthusiastic about the prototype. The price must also be made considerably more attractive than that of American robots, which cost about $1.5 million each. The researcher expects that it will definitely take some five years or so before Sofie will make it to market.

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