DLR technology for innovation in robot-assisted surgery
Operations with robotic assistance systems are no longer a rarity. The surgeon sits at a console, the robotic arms execute his commands precisely, safely and gently for the patient. The advantages for patients and surgeons are obvious – physical and cognitive relief for surgeons, innovative treatment with less trauma for patients. The new Hugo™ RAS (robotic-assisted surgery) system incorporates technological principles of the MiroSurge® telesurgery system developed by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR). The MiroSurge® system consists of two or more MIRO robot arms – depending on requirements. MIRO is a lightweight robot arm optimised for medical applications, kinematically redundant and fully torque-controlled. In terms of design, size and mobility, it is modelled on the human arm so that it can be operated intuitively, sensitively and safely. During an operation, the surgeon controls one or more MIRO robots from an open surgical console as a so-called MiroSurge system. The robotic arms can be equipped with different specialised instruments and thus be used flexibly and modularly.
These features from DLR-MIRO were further developed by Medtronic and are reflected in the new Hugo™ RAS system. The mechatronic design with the torque-controlled lightweight robot arms and numerous sensors ensures that movements are performed with high precision. The surgeon controls the robots' instruments using input devices. He performs the operation from an open console that allows visual contact with the patient and the surgical team at all times and, meanwhile, sees the endoscope images in 3D via a screen. Thanks to its modularity, the Hugo™ RAS system can be used more flexibly and therefore possibly more cost-effectively. "The Hugo™ RAS system embodies the practical application of research results that DLR has developed with MIRO. In cooperation with partners from industry, the shaping of innovations through to technology transfer is successful here," says Karsten Lemmer, DLR Executive Board member responsible for Innovation, Transfer and Research Infrastructure.
Space technology for patients and surgeons
The foundations of the technology come from spaceflight. "Our medical robotics team works with sophisticated robotic high technology that was originally developed and verified for use by astronauts in space," confirms Alin Albu-Schäffer, Head of the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics. DLR engineers are successfully researching how to operate robots remotely from Earth or from the International Space Station (ISS), giving the operator the feeling of being on site – that is, telepresent. Although there is also a distance between surgeon and patient during operations, this is not a matter of great distance. The surgeon must overcome the barriers of the human body and perform movements precisely, safely and without the inaccuracies of human hand movement at hard-to-reach surgical sites.
Technology transfer from DLR – successful together
DLR research results provide answers to urgent questions of social development in numerous areas, including medicine and health. The goal here is for innovations to emerge and reach people as quickly as possible. Innovations drive markets and offer competitive advantages. However, it takes a long time for an idea and the initial research results to become marketable products and services. DLR is a partner for industry in this process and, by involving industrial partners as early as possible, contributes to technologies that can be applied and thus to strengthening Germany as a business location. The strong and targeted investment in innovation projects and long-term strategic partnerships with industry across all economic sectors is paying off. The CE certification of Medtronic's Hugo™ RAS System is one such success story.
The MIRO Innovation Lab
The successful technology transfer of the MiroSurge® medical robotics system to Medtronic was the starting point for the establishment of the MIRO Innovation Lab in 2017 at the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics. The competence centre for medical robotics is an interface between industry, research and clinical partners. In addition to comprehensive expertise across the entire spectrum of robotics, the Innovation Lab offers companies the opportunity to rapidly prototype and evaluate complex applications on the in-house developed and technically mature MIRO research platform. Whether long-term strategic development partnerships from the initial idea to the market-ready product or short-term support over large parts of the product development process, the interdisciplinary team offers solutions with a high level of technological maturity and support for seamless technology transfer. With the help of a broad network of clinics, academia and industry, preclinical studies and user tests are also possible to ensure that innovations reach practice more quickly.
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