In their quest for kinder cutting, physicians increasingly rely on endoscopic surgery, replacing large scalpels and clamps with cameras and flexible tools that snake into the body through tiny holes. The technique is far less traumatic for patients but exhausting for the surgeons. "Suppose I asked you to pick up a noodle from a plate," says engineer Sunil Singh, "but I put the plate inside a box with two holes on top and asked you not just to go in and pick it up but to cut and stitch it too."
Exasperated, Singh and his colleague John Wen of Endobotics and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute developed Endobot, a robot that can take over much of the mundane stitching and slicing during surgery.
Endobot features two movable arms that have interchangeable tools attached. Once the arms are in position, the surgeon flicks a switch--or in a future version, barks out an order--and the tools begin to cut, grasp, suture, or drill. Those procedures are perfect for hernia repair, gallstone removal, and one day even heart surgery. "With our technology, the robot can synchronize its motion with the heart and suture it while it's beating," he says.
Endobot is expected to be used on humans in clinical trials this fall.