A group of graduate engineering students have adapted Microsoft’s new Kinect technology for a surprising purpose: surgical robotics.
The method involves using the Kinect — an array of cameras and sensors that allow video-game users to control their Xbox 360s with their bodies — to give surgeons force feedback when using tools to perform robotic surgery.
Currently, surgeons commonly use robotic tools for minimally invasive surgeries. Tubes with remotely controlled surgical instruments on the ends are inserted into the patient in order to minimize scarring. Surgeons control the instruments with input devices that resemble complex joysticks, and use tiny cameras in the tubes to see inside the patient.
The problem is, however, that surgeons have no realistic way to feel what they are doing. If they move a surgical instrument into something solid, the instrument will stop but the joystick will keep moving.
Electrical engineering graduate student Fredrik Ryden solved this problem by writing code that allowed the Kinect to map and react to environments in three dimensions, and send spatial information about that environment back to the user.
This places electronic restrictions on where the tool can be moved; if the actual instrument hits a bone, the joystick that controls it stops moving. If the instrument moves along a bone, the joystick follows the same path. It is even possible to define off-limits areas to protect vital organs.