Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong, China

A team of engineers from Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the University of Hong Kong (HKU) have collaborated on an innovative project to develop a novel surgical robotic system (NSRS) with haptic or tactile feedback that is capable of single incision or natural orifice robotic surgery in order to minimize surgical trauma and improve the safety of current robotic surgery. Led by Professor Yung Kai-Leung, Professor and Associate Head of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the team applied Professor Yung’s expertise in making precision instruments in space to the system.

Fig.1 – Animal trials conducted using the NSRS prototype were successfully carried out in December 2015.

The team has developed an NSRS with surgical robotic arms that are driven by internal micro-motors and capable of up to 10 degrees of freedom in movement. The robotic system was successfully utilized in three consecutive animal surgical experiments. (See Figure 1)

Currently, there is one dominant surgical robotic system on the market today. The system is expensive and has some limitations, including the need for multiple incisions, lack of force or tactile sensation feedback, and bulkiness. In addition, it is not designed for natural orifice, also known as incision-less, robotic surgery.

How It Works

Hong Kong’s new NSRS robotic system can be inserted through a single, small incision or even a natural orifice and expanded inside the human body to perform various surgical operations. In contrast to currently available surgical robots, which require multiple (three to six) abdominal incisions, NSRS has fully internally motorized surgical arms which can enter the human body through one tiny incision, or a natural orifice, for various abdominal or pelvic surgical operations.

Since the robotic arms are driven by custom-made micromotors adjacent to the end-effectors, they can operate with high precision and provide haptic feedback of the force applied. NSRS is the first robotic system in the world with arms having in vivo motors that are both small enough and able to generate sufficient force to perform various surgical operations inside the human body, paving the way for future non-invasive surgery.

Three consecutive successful animal surgical experiments using the NSRS prototype were carried out at the Surgical Skills Centre, Department of Surgery at HKU since December 2015. In the most recent successful experiment conducted in February, robotic cholecystectomy was successfully completed within one hour in a live pig using the NSRS.

The team says that they plan to continue to test the new robotic system in animal and cadaver models for more complicated procedures, using a single-incision and natural orifice approach, and hope to apply this system to various robotic surgeries in humans in the near future.