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Hero Surg robot not only performs operations — it lets surgeons feel what it's doing

A robot named da Vinci has helped surgeons make precise incisions since 2000. The system has been hailed by many as a surgical revolution but it has one big drawback — surgeons can’t feel their way through an operation and have to rely solely on their sight. This lack of haptic feedback makes it difficult to distinguish healthy tissue from tumors, and takes away a key sense that surgeons so often depend on.

But the creators behind a new robotic system called HeroSurg hope to restore haptic feedback for surgeons to make robotic surgery safer and more precise.

RelatedGood vibrations: Surgical tool may increase surgeons’ sensitivity during operations

“Haptic is important because it adds a further dimension to the surgeon,” Professor Suren Krishnan of Deakin University’s Institute of Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation told Digital Trends. “The surgeon in ‘normal’ non-robotic surgery uses his fingers to feel the tissues and uses this to differentiate between firm tissues involved with cancer from more normal-feeling tissue. It will also help the surgeon when dissecting tissues weakened by infection and inflammation that needs to be more delicately dissected and teased out.”

Developed in association with Harvard University’s Dr. Moshen Morandi Dalvand, the HeroSurg instruments are fitted with sensors that deliver subtle vibrations to surgeons’ hands, enabling them to sense pressure applied against the patient. The system also features an automatic collision avoidance feature, which ensures that the robotic arm doesn’t mistakenly bump into its surroundings.

Interestingly, despite what many doctors seem to suggest, a recent study found that robot-assisted surgery was about equal to surgery performed by a human when it came to a patient’s recovery time.

HeroSurg is still in its development phase and won’t be clinically available for at least another two years, said Krishnan. Still, he’s optimistic that the system will offer a competitively priced and valuable option for robotic surgery.