This Surgical Robot Can Drill Into Human Skull For Cochlear Implant Surgeries

Surgical robots are striving hard to aid the process of medical surgery for ages. While we are far away from a time where robots will be able to lead surgery autonomously, they are being used to assist different kinds of surgeries successfully. Surgeons normally control these operations via computer systems. A new robot has been designed by ARTORG Center for Biomedical Engineering Research at the University of Bern in Switzerland to assist cochlear implant surgery.

The study published in Science Robotics reports the world’s first ever robot to be used in such a type of surgery. The lead author of the study, Stefan Weber, said that the robot took eight years to get to this level of perfection. During this time, we have seen a lot of surgical robots that developed in a short span of time. Eight years sounds like a much longer time, but the surgery is much more complicated too. Cochlear implant surgeries help the hearing impaired patients restore their hearing with the partial function of their cochlear nerve.

Conventionally, cochlear transplant surgeries require to open up the skill. Surgeons need to work within an area only as much as a Euro coin. The electrode of the hearing device is implanted through this opening. The robot was designed essentially to eliminate the need for making such a big incision.

“Humans are operating at the limits of their skill-sets, haptically and visually. But if it’s designed right, a robotic system can operate at any resolution—whether it’s a millimeter you need or a tenth of a millimeter,” explained Weber.

The robot helps to drill a very narrow tunnel into the temporal bone of the inner ear. The electrode comfortably fits in the tunnel for a more convenient implant, which leads to a shorter recovery time for the patient. In most cases, the patients of hearing implants are children, so a quicker recovery time is a critical concern.

The first patient to receive the robot-assisted surgery was a 51-years-old female patient in 2016. It was used in 3 more surgeries later, and all of them were successful. All the patients of the robot-assisted surgery are still under monitoring to assess their overall experience.

Even though the robot took eight years to come this far, it is nowhere close to being automated. However, the team is working to optimize it to finalize the implantation and thread of the electrode into the inner ear.

“Let’s say structures that are rather small, in the brain or deeper inside the skull base. We are interested to see if we can expand it in the future,” said Weber.

In the video below, you can see the testing of this robot.


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