Back Pain Information for Kids

Robotics and Computers in Spine Surgery

Imagine you are looking down into an active operating room (OR). You can see the outline of the patient's body under layers of blue covers. The air feels cool. The tiled walls are tall and huge lights hang overhead all aglow. But something is strange. Everyone looks like they are watching TV … where is the surgeon?

The surgeon is there, he simply isn't where you would expect to find him. Instead of operating on the patient using his hands, he is using robotics to perform the surgery. Amazing!

Little Cuts and Tiny Tools
Today more and more surgeries use procedures called Minimally Invasive. Minimally Invasive means tiny incisions (cuts) are all that is needed to go inside the body instead of long cuts. Even the equipment and tools used during a minimally invasive procedure are smaller - they are "mini" sized.

aesop voice activated robotic arm

(Picture Above) Aesop is a voice -activated robotic arm that holds the camera and endoscope assembly for the surgeon during an endoscopic procedure.

An endoscope (end-oh-scope) is one piece of equipment used during a minimally invasive procedure. Endoscopes are used to light up an area inside the body. The endoscope is simply a flexible tube with a light at the end of it. It also has a tiny camera on it to send pictures back to the surgeon. These advances when combined with medical robotics and computers take us into our high-tech OR.

Where It All Started
The idea of robotics in surgery started in the military. The military wanted to develop a way to operate on an injured soldier in the battlefield from a distance. Over time the idea evolved into robotics.

Robotics and The Surgeon
The surgeon sits at a station looking at a monitor that shows a magnified view of the surgical area. Surgical team members view the surgery from other monitors in the OR. As the surgeon moves his hand the computer copies his hand movements. The computer instantly communicates the instructions to a robotic arm called an Endowrist. The Endowrist actually does the surgery!

The computer is able to fine-tune the surgeon's hand movements. Even a tiny tremor (shake) in the hand is instantly kept steady. However, this does not mean that the surgeon's job is easier! Although the robot enhances the surgeon's ability, it takes a great deal of practice to master the technique.

Voice Activated Robotics
Some tasks in surgery are boring or tiring for humans. Enter Aesop, a voice-activated robotic arm that holds the camera and endoscope perfectly. Unlike a human hand, Aesop is absolutely steady (and never gets tired!).

hermes voice activated operating room

(Picture Above) Hermes, or Voice Activated Operating Room, allows the surgeon to command adjustments in the camera such as light intensity, raising and lowering the operating table, turning power sources on and off and even making an outside phone call when consultation is needed.

However, before Aesop can understand the surgeon's commands, the surgeon makes a voice card. Speaking in a regular voice, the surgeon records all of the commands. As long as the surgeon speaks in the same tone of voice, Aesop obeys!

Hermes is another type of voice-activated system. Hermes, or Voice Activated Operating Room, allows the surgeon to speak commands to call up MRIs and Cat Scans on the flat panel monitor, adjust the lighting or the height and position of the operating table, or even make outside telephone calls.

Computers are being used as tour guides to give the surgeon 3-D images of the body in real time. These images help the surgeon navigate to a specific location on the spine. For example, an MRI or CAT scan taken before surgery can be digitized for use during surgery to help the surgeon more accurately fix the spine.

Well … this brings our visit to this high-tech operating room to a close. Next time we get together who knows what new and exciting things we can learn together!

Updated on: 02/01/10