Learning to Localize, Grasp, and Hand Over Unmodified Surgical Needles

Publication Date: October 3, 2022

A. Wilcox et al., “Learning to Localize, Grasp, and Hand Over Unmodified Surgical Needles,” 2022 International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), 2022, pp. 9637-9643, doi: 10.1109/ICRA46639.2022.9812393.

Abstract Robotic Surgical Assistants (RSAs) are commonly used to perform minimally invasive surgeries by expert surgeons. However, long procedures filled with tedious and repetitive tasks such as suturing can lead to surgeon fatigue, motivating the automation of suturing. As visual tracking of a thin reflective needle is extremely challenging, prior work has modified the needle with nonreflective contrasting paint. As a step towards automation of a suturing subtask without modifying the needle, we propose HOUSTON: Handover of Unmodified, Surgical, Tool-Obstructed Needles, a problem and algorithm that uses a learned active sensing policy with a stereo camera to iteratively localize and align the needle into a visible and accessible pose for the other gripper. To compensate for robot positioning and needle perception errors, the algorithm then executes a high-precision grasping motion that uses multiple cameras. Physical experiments with the da Vinci Research Kit (dVRK) suggest a success rate of 96.7% on needles used in training, and 75 – 92.9% on needles unseen in training. On sequential handovers, HOUSTON successfully executes 32.4 handovers on average before failure. To our knowledge, this work is the first to study handover of unmodified surgical needles. See https://tinyurl.com/houston-surgery for additional materials including details about offline datasets and model architectures.