By Len Faria
Mechanical Engineering Manager, Veranex
Robotic assisted surgery (RAS) has seen impressive and sustained growth for the past decade with little sign of slowing down. New surgical modalities, differentiated visualization and navigation solutions along with increased connectivity continue to drive market adoption and utilization.
As the market matures, access to a broad catalogue of surgical tools will be one of the differentiating factors when hospital buyers evaluate the purchase of a new platform. We have seen first movers innovate and build a strong, ground-up offering while more established players leverage and adapt their existing robotic solution portfolios to take advantage of growth opportunities. Partnerships between platforms and laparoscopic and minimally invasive device manufacturers will bring new offerings to the table.
Key Considerations When Developing or Adapting Existing Tool Sets for Robotic Applications
The sophistication of today’s surgical robotic platforms has evolved beyond simply designing a mating interface for coupling a laparoscopic instrument with a robot. The intelligence of today’s systems to identify instrument type, length registration, and use count, as well as the user’s interface — in terms of actuation or energy delivery — is highly integrated.
Adapting a laparoscopic instrument for robotic integration presents fundamental design challenges. These challenges include understanding the specific instrument task and workspace, how surgeons manipulate the instrument, the loads and forces it undergoes, and the haptic feedback the laparoscopic surgeon experiences with the manual device. One must also consider factors like draping, setup, breakdown, and reprocessing.
To overcome these challenges, design must start with a contextual inquiry around the laparoscopic use to identify usability and task flow as well as technical requirements and opportunities. This inquiry may include credentialed visits to ORs for observation or benchtop studies with subject matter experts.
With a full understanding of these human factors, the process for developing custom tools includes strategically integrating load cells, strain gauges, and data acquisition systems within the laparoscopic device. With these adjustments in place, surgeons then repeat the surgical tasks required. We document and reference these data as rationale to support the design inputs for robotic integration. This fully integrated approach enables engineers and developers to assist larger players seeking to offer a complete portfolio that spans capital equipment, effectors, and digital solutions, as well as niche players with unique insight and expertise who will seek to disrupt segments of the market with differentiated solutions.