Skip to main content

Good vibrations: Surgical tool may increase surgeons' sensitivity during operations

med students
A tiny, vibrating surgical tool, very possibly one of the most counterintuitive medical devices to emerge in recent years, has helped heighten surgeons’ sensitivity to shapes and textures — and may enable them to sense a patient’s internal tissues and tumors during operations.

During many surgical procedures, surgeons use slim, metal tools, which help minimize invasiveness but inhibit their ability to “feel” their way through the operation. The PZT Actuator, developed by engineers from Hiroshima University in Japan, attaches to the handle of surgical tools and vibrates imperceptibly against the surgeon’s palm, gently delivering detailed information about internal tissue and organs.

Dr. Yuichi Kurita, the lead researcher, told Digital Trends his venture into the technology was inspired by a visit to the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he realized that surgeons often lacked that tactile connection to the bodies they operate on.

Yuichi Kurita, Hiroshima University
Yuichi Kurita, Hiroshima University

“After I joined Hiroshima University, I had an idea to apply this to improve the operations during minimally invasive surgery … and talked to research collaborators in the Institute of Biomedical Sciences, Hiroshima University,” he said. Kurita presented the first findings from his research to an international conference three years ago.

Fast forward to 2016 and Kurita and his team have taken the PZT Actuator a few steps further.

To test the device, researchers blindfolded volunteers and had them use a tool equipped with the PZT Actuator to identify various textures of sandpaper and to locate a Styrofoam ball within a silicone-filled cup. According to the researchers, this test is like pinpointing a solid tumor within human tissue.

There’s still some work to be done before the device is ready to hit the operating table. For one, Kurita says true surgical trials on actual or simulated tissue would be required to make the device more precise.

“Practical design is also needed to keep the functional requirements for a surgical tool,” he adds, listing safety, hygiene, and ease of use as important factors. “After dealing with these issues, we will test in a real surgery.”

Editors' Recommendations

Dyllan Furness
Dyllan Furness is a freelance writer from Florida. He covers strange science and emerging tech for Digital Trends, focusing…
Huawei finds its niche with the sporty Watch GT Runner
Huawei Watch GT Runner on wrist.

By focusing on a specific niche, Huawei may have found an audience for its latest smartwatch, the Watch GT Runner. It’s a spinoff of Huawei’s classier Watch GT 3 smartwatch, but as the new watch’s name suggests, it's targeted squarely at runners.

It’s a technically impressive bit of hardware, and the software is very good, so when you consider it as an alternative to other running watches, the Huawei idiosyncrasies that frustrate on the Watch GT 3 become less of a problem here. I've been trying it out and here are my thoughts.
A light touch
The Huawei Watch GT Runner is light -- just 51 grams with the very flexible silicone strap -- and that makes it comfortable to wear all day. The 46mm case is quite big, but at 11mm thick, it never feels that ungainly. For comparison, the new 47mm Garmin Fenix 7 weighs 79 grams and is nearly 15mm thick. The lightness comes from the polymer fiber case, which is given some visual appeal with a ceramic bezel and titanium crown. It’s also worth noting the huge amount of adjustment on the strap that allows it to be worn both under and over clothing.

Read more
Do you need a smart toothbrush?
Oral-B iO Series 9 Smart Toothbrush in hand

When will we come to a time when every accessory in our home is smart? Is there a limit to what should actually be smart? Let's talk about a category that may not be what you traditionally think of as a smart device -- the toothbrush.

I'm all for having smarter health products and having the best technology in our hygiene products (like bidets), but I've not put a lot of thought into how, or why, my toothbrush is smart. It's time to dive in and see if it's even worth it.

Read more
How Hawk-Eye cameras are making football fairer and faster than ever
Hawk-Eye goal line camera

Football can be a tough sport -- and nowhere more than at its most elite level where highly trained players compete for gridiron glory. There is a lot at stake, and a lot that can go wrong, too. From calls that are tough to make in real-time to the ever-present risk of season-ending injuries, you need a whole lot of eyes on the game to ensure that it runs smoothly.

Hawk-Eye is a company that's there to lend an automated assist. Used in an ever-growing number of sports, including the NFL, Hawk-Eye's tech consists of synchronized multi-angle cameras that can help track large numbers of data points on the sports field.

Read more