Sony surgery robot operates on corn kernel

A remote-controlled microsurgery assistance robot has stitched a corn kernel in a video presentation showcasing its skills.

In the presentation, the robot under development by Sony is seen operating on the corn kernel using tiny suture needles – it’s dexterous movements a result of sophisticated engineering and years of research.

Replace the corn kernel with tiny blood vessels that need to be connected in a highly precise and delicate procedure known as microvascular anastomosis, and you get a glimpse of what advanced surgery will look like in the (perhaps not-so-distant) future.

Non-clinical trials of the prototype have already taken place, and experiments were conducted at Aichi Medical University in February. There, physicians and medical staff not specialized in microsurgery successfully anastomosed animal blood vessels.

According to Sony, the tests marked the world’s first case of successful blood vessel anastomosis in the field of super microsurgery using a surgical assistant robot capable of automatic instrument exchange.

Image by Sony

Smooth workflow was on the mind of Sony researchers who developed an automatic exchange function to mimic real-life surgeons and assistants quickly exchanging instruments needed for different stages of the surgery.

Microsurgery involves a combination of extremely tiny motions, such as inserting needles into small blood vessels, and relatively larger motions like pulling threads. While the robot excelled at tiny movements, its developers were concerned it was not as good with larger ones.

To address this concern, a “small and lightweight” control device that can be manipulated with fingertips in a similar way to conventional surgical instruments was developed, according to Sony.

By making the most of the capabilities of human fingertips, ultraprecise operations can be achieved without the need to significantly increase motion scaling. These technologies aim to allow surgeons to comfortably perform various tasks in a stable posture with their hands resting on the hand rest,” the company said.

While the intervention of robots between surgeons and patients enables finer movements, it can also lead to delayed or jerky movements of instruments, reducing the intuitiveness of the surgery.

“To tackle these challenges, all joints of the robot arm, from the joints corresponding to human shoulders and elbows to the ultra-small wrist joints at the tip of the instrument, have been changed to low-friction joints, thereby achieving smooth and jerk-free movements,” Sony said.

Additionally, an electronic control system focused on low latency and a mechanical system focused on lightness to enhance the responsiveness of robot movements were installed.

The prototype is also equipped with 1.3-type 4K OLED microdisplays developed by Sony Semiconductor Solutions Corporation. They allow robot operators to view images of the affected area and the movement of surgical instruments in high definition.

Sony said it hopes its robot technology can make microsurgery more accessible to all, as the procedure is currently provided only by a limited number of physicians and facilities due to the high level of skill it requires.