This terrifying robot can drill through your skull in 2 minutes – and that’s a good thing

A drill-wielding robot that bores into your skull for a quick spot of impromptu brain surgery sounds like a scene from a future sci-fi dystopia, in which AI treats Earth’s surviving humans like lab rats.

In fact, it’s a new research project from the good folks at the University of Utah, who have developed a computer-driven automated drill for cranial surgery. That means safely cutting an opening — called a bone flap — in the skull so that the brain can be accessed underneath. While it would take an experienced surgeon 2 hours to carry out this task using hand-drilling, the University of Utah’s robot is able to achieve the same thing in just 2.5 minutes. That’s 50x faster than was previously possible — which for some reason makes us all kinds of nervous!

While that may be the case, though, there are actually excellent reasons for doing this kind of surgery very rapidly. In other words, it’s not the brain surgery equivalent of Bishop the android’s ultra-fast knife trick from Aliens, that’s just there to show how good robots have gotten.

Carrying out cranial surgery quickly means less time for a wound to be open and a patient to be anesthetized, thereby offering a reduced risk of infection.

Using the technology, a patient is first imaged using a CT scan, allowing for the gathering of bone data and information about sensitive structures like nerves and major veins. The surgeons then program the drill’s optimal route using 3D modeling tech, which Alagar Krishnan Balaji, Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering, describes as being a bit “like Google Maps” — only on a much, much smaller scale. Due to the fine-grain precision of the robot, it’s possible for it to drill down within 1mm of sensitive structures.

“The specific advantage is that machines, when designed correctly, do not get tired or fatigued and are capable of performing repetitive tasks consistently and well,” Balaji told Digital Trends. “However, you do need to inform the machine what it is supposed to do very explicitly. The surgeon is still involved with the surgery, but for a tedious job like bone removal, the machine takes over and does the preliminary tasks quickly — thus allowing the surgeon to focus on other later aspects of the surgery with greater efficiency and reduced fatigue.”

According to Balaji, there were several engineering challenges involved with the project, such as the ability to link the 3D imaging technology seamlessly with the surgical drill, as well as making a robot portable enough that it could be maneuvered around operating theaters.

“As a mechanical engineer who specializes in machining of materials such as metals, the different material and incredibly complex geometry encountered in neurosurgery was [also] particularly challenging,” he continued.

At present, the robot is just a proof-of-concept that’s yet to make it into hospitals. But with its impressive tech demo, researchers at the University of Utah hope that it will be only a matter of time before it becomes a regularly-used tool in the surgeon’s arsenal.

Emerging Tech

3D-printed paste could hold buildings together amid natural disasters

A 3D-printed cement paste could one day be used to make buildings more resilient to natural disasters. That's because, as crazy as it sounds, it actually gets tougher the more it cracks.
Emerging Tech

What the heck is machine learning, and why is it everywhere these days?

Machine learning has been responsible for some of the biggest advances in artificial intelligence over the past decade. But what exactly is it? Check out our handy beginner's guide.
Emerging Tech

This is the result when a quadcopter strikes the wing of an aircraft

Responding to increasing concern over drone flights near airports, researchers in the U.S. have conducted lab tests to see what happens when a quadcopter collides with an aircraft wing at high speed. And no, it's not pretty.
Emerging Tech

Here’s how scientists read a charred 16th-century scroll without unraveling it

What do you do when you’re a historian trying to recover information from a severely damaged 16th-century scroll that’s darn near unreadable? You turn to cutting-edge technology, of course.
Emerging Tech

New ‘parkour’ video shows Boston Dynamics robot training to overthrow humanity

Robots doing backflips? That's so 2017! In its latest jaw-dropping YouTube video, Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot pulls off some frankly astonishing parkour stunts for our viewing pleasure.
Emerging Tech

With VR dinosaurs and ‘Minecraft,’ one hospital is making medicine less scary

From augmented reality rabbits on the wards to a Minecraft recreation of the hospital for kids to explore, one of the world's most renowned children's hospitals just got a major tech overhaul.
Emerging Tech

Will we ever fly supersonic again? Unraveling the concorde’s complex legacy

In a new book, Last Days of the Concorde, journalist and author Samme Chittum delves into the mindset that inspired engineers to design this marvel, the series of events that led to its fatal crash, and the possibility that commercial SSTs…
Emerging Tech

Check out the British Army’s beefy new bomb-disposal robot

The British Army is about to get an impressive new explosive ordnance disposal robot that is able to climb stairs, negotiate slopes, cut wires, and … oh, yes, dispose of bombs, too.
Emerging Tech

Kill it before it lays eggs! Crazy 32-leg robot moves like a cyborg sea urchin

We’ve seen one-legged, two-legged, four-legged and even six-legged robots, but researchers from Japan have gone way, way further with their latest project: A 32-legged robot. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

Leafy greens are grown by machines at new, automated Silicon Valley farm

Farming hasn't changed too much for hundreds of years. Now a new startup called Iron Ox has opened its first automated hydroponics farm, producing a variety of leafy greens tended by machines.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: DIY smartphones and zip-on bike tires

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Gaming

As deaf gamers speak up, game studios are finally listening to those who can’t

Using social media, personal blogs and Twitch, a small group of deaf and hard-of-hearing players have been working to make their voices heard and improve accessibility in the gaming industry.
Emerging Tech

From flying for fun to pro filmmaking, these are the best drones you can buy

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Emerging Tech

Get your head in the clouds with the best vaporizers for flower and concentrates

Why combust dead plant matter when you could vaporize the good stuff and leave the leaves behind? Here's a rundown of the best vaporizers money can buy, no matter what your style is.