The use of robots in surgery has come a long way with the advent of the da Vinci Surgical System. However, current technology still requires a human operator for successful surgery. One of the most difficult aspects of building a surgical robot is giving it the ability to respond to changing environments. One small part of that challenge is dealing with a pumping heart and heaving chest during surgery, small movements that differ with each patient. In order to work on this problem, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley are using flight simulation technology to mimic the movement of breathing and improve the ability of surgical robots.
Looking at the bigger picture, could robots replace surgeons? Due to the unpredictable nature of a surgical environment, Ken Goldberg, a UC Berkeley IEOR professor working on this system, says “I don’t think we’ll ever replace surgeons. I don’t want to overstate this at all, but I think [this research] is a step toward being able to do more subtasks in a more realistic setting.” The researchers are focusing on creating a robot that would assist human surgeons by performing tasks that are difficult for humans, such as creating small incisions for non-invasive heart surgery.