Researchers give awareness and sight to medical robots

QUT researchers are developing a new class of surgical robots and designing a multimodal imaging system using ultrasound technology to guide robotic vision for keyhole operations.

Researchers identified a gap in the technology for robots to autonomously identify different tissue types instantly.

Dr Ajay Pandey is a Senior Lecturer in Robotics and Autonomous Systems at QUT’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science who is among a team of robotics and health researchers testing the new technology.

He said combining advancements in miniature camera technology, 3D ultrasound and machine learning, the project can provide unparalleled situational awareness to medical robots.

“Procedures such as meniscal repair and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in knee arthroscopy require extreme care.

“Advancing the medical imaging technology will greatly enhance surgeons’ clinical abilities and drastically lower the physical footprint and the cost of surgical procedures,” said Pandey.

Dr Davide Fontanarosa, senior lecturer in medical radiation sciences from the Faculty of Health, said ultrasound had many benefits and was the only real-time modality compatible with operating theatres or radiotherapy bunkers.

“Tendons and ligaments, despite their many structural similarities, and several other soft tissues can be distinguished in ultrasound images.

“Ultrasound imaging is portable, completely harmless to patients and avoids side-effects such as claustrophobia but requires lengthy training to be able to interpret and use it,” said Fontanarosa.

Previous published research revealed a survey of Australian surgeons acknowledged “inadvertent damage” to cartilage tissue during one in 10 arthroscopic knee procedures.

The team includes chair in Orthopaedic Research and director of Medical Engineering Research at QUT Professor Ross Crawford and chief investigator for the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision Professor Jonathan Roberts.