Robots will perform spinal surgery with greater accuracy than humanly possible as part of a ground-breaking research project. A research team has created a system that allows two robotic arms to semi-autonomously drill holes in individual vertebrae.
The drilling is required as part of an operation that allows surgeons to straighten the spines of patients who have conditions such as scoliosis or kyphosis. The technology promises to deliver previously unachieved levels of accuracy, partly because the robotic arms move in unison and naturally with the patient’s spine during the operation whilst drilling.
The research also explores the use of augmented reality to provide surgeons with live visual feedback to illustrate the depth of each hole as it is drilled. Accuracy of drilling has been recorded at 0.1 mm.
The holes drilled in the vertebrae are used to insert pedicle screws which are attached to deformity rod reducers that allow surgeons to lever individual vertebrae and realign the spine.
Two robotic arms work in collaboration during the procedure, known as the datum and tooling robots. The datum robot is secured to a vertebra and moves with it to follow the natural movements of the patient. It relays data on this movement instantaneously to a computer.
The tooling robot then adjusts automatically so that it remains on its pre-defined path and continues to drill accurately.