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Surgery is about to get “digitized”

The use of robotics started in the manufacturing industry in the 1950s, but their entry into the realm of surgery was not until the ‘90s. This came together with the demand for minimally invasive surgery. Surgeons who used the first wave of surgical robotic systems, already experienced enhanced precision, improved dexterity and intuitive remote control, along with improved stereo visualization inside the patient when compared with traditional techniques. 

Where the first wave was focused on improving surgeon’s device manipulation and sensing abilities, the next waves will focus on providing consistent and high quality surgical services, improving outcomes and increasing efficiency in the operating room by automating simple tasks and actively assisting surgeons in more complex procedures.  Before fully autonomous surgical suites are realized, many technical, social, and regulatory challenges must be overcome. The existing capabilities of the ECS industry as well as breakthroughs in miniaturization, actuation, integration, embedded intelligence, communication, and sensing are all essential enablers for the next wave of surgical robotics. A

Societal impact

Surgical robotics address 3 major components of surgery, repetitive tasks (e.g., hair follicle harvesting), access and dexterity (e.g., keyhole abdominal surgery) and precision (e.g., spine screw placement, biopsy). 
Surgical robotics have a clear impact on the society by improving the outcomes of procedures and reducing procedure-associated complications, which has a significant economic benefit in addition to cost savings by reduction of post-operative care and length of stay at hospitals. This has been shown for initial applications in minimally invasive joint replacement and prostate cancer treatment procedures. So far only ~2% of procedures are performed with robotic assistance worldwide. Therefore, it is essential to continue to develop and deploy robot systems in medical procedures to cover more procedures and enable wider access, essentially democratizing surgery and reducing the overall cost of care. As surgical robot companies grow fueled by technological breakthroughs and increased adoption, product costs will decrease while providing increased quality, leading routine procedure costs to decrease.


Relevance for the Electronic Components and Systems (ECS) industry

From a technical perspective, innovations should focus on improving the surgeon’s and their team’s experience, always improving patient outcomes, and therefore increasing (operating room) efficiency and ultimately reducing healthcare cost. This will be achieved through innovations that simplify application of surgical treatment, even if they require greater technological sophistication. Improvements in visualization, including better incorporation of pre-operative and intraoperative (e.g., x-ray) imaging, sensing and augmented reality interfaces will make robot-assisted surgery more natural and intuitive, and enable surgeons to execute surgical plans  more precisely and efficiently. Artificial Intelligence driven by increased collection of data passing through these robotic systems like motion tracking, sensing and imaging will enable exponential improvements and innovations. Key innovations will improve and simplify workflow, provide active assistance in the form of automated maneuvers, present enhanced real-time guidance from information fusion and add system redundancies for robustness. These changes will improve the quality of existing procedures while reducing costs and building confidence to expend into new surgical applications. The capabilities of the ECS industry in miniaturization, integration, embedded intelligence, communication and sensing are all needed to help succeed those technical innovations.


Enabling technology platforms

The ECS value chain will be essential in the development of the second wave of surgical robotic systems. The main technology platforms that are driving this innovation are: 

  • Low power edge computing;

  • Automation;

  • Sensing; 

  • Miniaturization of sensors and actuators; 

  • Control systems; 

  • Artificial Intelligence for perception;

  • Artificial Intelligence for ‘robotics’ control;

  • Integration platform (e.g., Open protocols / OpenIGTLink);

  • Device and data interoperability standards e.g., DICOM2.0.

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