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HeartLander: A Miniature Mobile Robot That Crawls Around the Heart, Powered by LabVIEW November 16, 2010

Posted by emiliekopp in industry robot spotlight, labview robot projects.
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Recall from the NIWeek 2010 Day Three Keynote: Dr. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist, predicted the next 20 years of technology development, describing tiny robots that would travel throughout the body, taking readings, administering medication and performing tiny microscopic procedures, all while we go about our daily routines.

Researchers at the Carnegie Melon Robotics Institute are one step ahead of us, delivering the HeartLander, a miniature robotic device that can crawl around the surface of the heart, taking measurements and performing simple surgical tasks, all while the heart continues to pump blood throughout the body. I stumbled upon Nicholas Patronik’s Ph.D. thesis describing this project (and I encourage everyone to check it out). Here is what I found out:

An early prototype of HeartLander, a small robot that can adhere to and traverse a beating heart.

Robot-assisted surgery
NI technologies have been used for robot-assisted surgeries before, but the HeartLander robot addresses two major challenges of cardiac therapy and surgery:
•    Gaining access to the heart without opening the chest
•    Operating on the heart while it is beating

Several options for tackling these challenges exist today. Thoracoscopic techniques use laparoscopic tools inserted through the chest cavity to operate on the beating heart (think DaVinci Robot). While this avoids cracking open the rib cage (ouch!), even less invasive methods exist for accessing the heart and performing simpler procedures, like dye injections. Percutaneous transvenous techniques access inner organs through main arteries and veins. For example, a doctor can guide a heart stent through the veins in your thigh to treat blockages, and this procedure is performed on an outpatient basis. While these transvenous procedures are easier to recover from, thoracoscopic techniques offer much more flexibility in the complexity of surgical operations that can be performed.

Illustration of HeartLander

The HeartLander robot is considered a hybrid of these two approaches in that it can achieve fine control of thoracoscopic techniques while maintaining the ability to be performed on an outpatient basis, like the percutaneous transvenous techniques. It adheres to and traverses the heart’s surface, the epicardium, providing a tool for precise and stable interaction with the beating heart. Even better, it can access difficult to reach locations of the heart such as the posterior wall of the left ventricle (the side of your heart that faces your back).

How it works
The HeartLander is launched onto the surface of the beating heart through a small puncture underneath the bottom of the sternum. From there, the robot steadily traverses the epicardium like an inchworm. Offboard linear motors actuate the robot forward while solenoids regulate vacuum pressure to suction pads. Watch a video of early prototypes inching across an inflated balloon, a synthetic beating heart and a porcine beating heart to see HeartLander’s motion in action (warning: the video clips get progressively graphic in nature).

An umbilical tether sends and receives information between the HeartLander and the control station, where the pressure to the suction pads is monitored and controlled to maintain grip at all times. The mobility of the robot is semiautonomous: it uses a pure pursuit tracking algorithm to navigate to predetermined surface targets, and can also be controlled via teleoperation.

Two drive wires transmit the actuation from off-board motors for locomotion. A 6-DOF electromagnetic tracking sensor is mounted to the front of the body.

It can navigate to any location on the epicardium, with clock speeds up to 4 mm per second, and acquire localization targets within 1 mm. But what I think is particularly exciting about this application is that the robot’s motion is controlled entirely with LabVIEW software and NI data acquisition hardware.

So far, the HeartLander has been successfully demonstrated through a series of closed-chest, beating-heart porcine studies. We don’t have tiny robotic heart worms crawling around in us just yet. But we’re certainly excited to see how the HeartLander project progresses and we’re proud that NI technologies are helping pave the way for incredible, futuristic innovations like this.

Learn more about the HeartLander project on CMU’s website

Discover other autonomous robots designed and controlled using LabVIEW software

Why robotic surgery is the shiz January 7, 2009

Posted by emiliekopp in industry robot spotlight.
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St. Joseph’s Health System in Atlanta, GA, just announced it’s launching a non-profit training program called the International College of Robotic Surgery (ICRS) to train robotic surgical teams from around the world. The program features robust training on “all daVinci Surgical System robotic surgery specialties, beginning with intraccardiac and cardia revascularization, including TECAB.”

The daVinci Robot, for those who may be unfamiliar, is a highly-complex system of high-precisision manipulators that perform surgical tasks (i.e. cutting tissue, tying sutures, sewing stiches) inside your body. In the meantime, these slave manipulators are being controlled by a surgeon sitting 5 feet away from the patient at a master console.

daVinci.jpg

Why is the daVinci Robot so cool?

First off, laproscopic (non-invasive) surgery is the way to go these days. Rather than splitting a dude open like a watermelon, a couple of small incisions can be made (the size of a dime) where several tiny end-effectors are inserted to perform surgical tasks. This is safer, cleaner, and alleviates a tremendous amount of trauma and recovery-time for the patient. Here’s what I mean:

Let’s say two 8-year-old boys are playing around with their new BB guns (they are sure they will not shoot their eye’s out). However, one boy accidentally shoots his best friend in the chest and the BB has entered his chest cavity. Now, the kid isn’t going to just drop dead right there; he’s probably still conscious and can even walk around. But the BB certainly must be removed.

Before the daVinci robot, an anesthesiologist would have to put the kid under. Then, a surgeon would have to make an incision at the top of the child’s torso all the way down to below his navel. He would have to pry open the rib cage, remove the foreign material, and fuse the kid back up. The 8-year old kid now has to spend 2 weeks in the hosiptial, doped with pain killers, under supervision to make sure he is not at risk of infection. It will be 5 months before he can run around the backyard again. He’s got a wicked scar that will stick around for the rest of his life. All because of a stupid little BB.

Let’s replay the same scenario, with the daVinci robot:

The boy is put-under by the anesthesiologist and the daVinci robot is wheeled in (you have to wait until the patient is completely out before you wheel it in; can you imagine trying to fall asleep with 15 robotic arms hovering over you?). Four small incisions are made and the surgeon uses a tiny fiber optic camera at the tip of one of the end effectors to locate position of the BB. The feed from the camera is being broadcasted into the large operating console, where the surgeon sits, as though he is watching a nickelodeon. His hands (and feet) are guiding and commanding the position of the daVinci robot manipulators, using a series of knobs, buttons, pedals and levers.

He selects a different manipulator, one with tiny pinchers at the tip. He guides this one in, grasps the BB and pulls it out. The four tiny incisions are patched up. The young boy leaves the hosptial the next day. There is little, to no scarring. He is running around and climbing trees again within a week.

I don’t mean to get sappy, but it’s just plain cool. These robots are performing all sorts of operations. Coronary bypasses, hysterectomies, patching up kidneys and bladders… My dad will most likely meet the daVinci robot when it removes cancerous tissue from his prostate (I love you, Dad).

So I’m psyched to see that robotic surgery is becoming more pervasive and that surgeons from around the world will travel to robotic-surgery-capitals like Atlanta and Houston to train on the daVinci robot. The daVinci robot is one of my favorite robot friends.

BLOG UPDATE:

Well, two updates, actually.

#1: My dad has been cancer-free for over a year now.

#2: Here’s a really awesome video demonstrating the finesse of a surgeon operating the daVinci robot:

(thanks to Automaton Blog for finding the video)