"The future of surgery is not about blood and guts; the future of surgery is about bits and bytes.”
/Dr. Richard Satava/

Friday, March 28, 2008

The professionals of the West Coast

During my visit to Los Angeles I was honored to consult two prominent medical personals, both with Hungarian origin. Firstly, I met with Professor Daniel Farkas, the director of the MIS research center at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He introduced their research efforts aimed to realize the concept of the Operating Room of the Future. They will soon be ready with a demo room, where every imaging device is personalizable, all equipment is linked to the central network, the screens are beyond HD and new imaging techniques allow the doctor to shorten the operating time significantly. The key features they develop are the multi-modal, multi-layered imaging architecture. By integrating different devices, such as dof-endoscopes, single-photon fluoroscopy, lifetime measurement, they will be able to determine tissue quality in-vivo, on the fly. This may be essential in cancer treatment. They are also very good in Point Spread Function Engineering, which means the extension of the confocal scanning microscopy's resolution by designing diffractive elements that properly shape the point spread function. Their biggest advantage is that the new imaging system will only be an easily attachable add-on to the classic optical microscopes.
Another day, I was honored to have dinner with Professor George Berci, one of the early leader in laparoscopic surgery. He truly believes in micro- and nano-scale surgical robotics. Several small devices are under development that can be inserted into the body, navigate around organs and partially autonomously treat the target location, without affecting the neighboring tissues. They can also deliver drugs, making a treatment several times more effective. Examples of such systems, like the inchworm-like robot and capsules developed at the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Italy by Paolo Dario et. al.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Further labs at LCSR

There are more labs around I am not really in touch with, but to finish the series of lab introductions, here is a short post about them.
Robot and Protein Kinematics Lab (RPK) focuses on self-replicating, binary and library robots. Their work on protein kinematics seeks to animate transitions between conformational states. In some cases two fully known conformations are provided as the inputs, and their mehods generate pathways that morph between these two states.
The Vision, Dynamics and Learning Lab (VDL) is more about biomedical imaging, computer vision, dynamics and controls, machine learning and hybrid systems. Neuroengineering and Biomedical Instrumentation Lab (NBI) is located in the Medical School, and record information from neurons or brain, and build prosthesis (arm) that can be controlled by this signals. Finally, the Laboratory for Computational Motor Control (LCMC) is all about motor control in health and disease, motor learning, robotics, computational neuroscience, brain imaging, neurophysiology.
Source: LCSR page

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Visit at JPL

On Friday, within the frames of the iSAIRAS, we had a guided tour to JPS’s headquarters to Pasadena. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory was founded within the California Institute of Technology in 1944 by the Hungarian engineer Theodore von Kármán and his rocket scientist colleagues. NASA took over in 1958, and JPL remained the most important research center for space robotics and automation eversince. Their biggest achievements include the Voyager 1-2, Galileo, Cassini spacecrafts and the Mars Exploration Rovers. We were given a brief introduction to these systems in the museum and visitor complex of the center. Probably the most important fact is that JPL operates the Mission Control Center of the Deep Space Network, the space communication system that keeps contact with up to 3000 spacecrafts a year through the 30-70 m wide antennas and attached communication facilities placed throughout the world. One center is in Madrid, another in Canberra and the third in California, allowing communication to any direction, in any time. The JPL facility operates as a telephone center, it collects and redistributes the com. lines and information flow. Currently, they are working on the next generation of space communication system that would resemble the internet a bit, as it could use any satellite on the way to relay the signals, and retransmit it.
Our next visit went to the indoors Mars Yard, where they had thoroughly tested the features of the MER robots. They still have an engineering model (fully operational, using 6000 pieces 26 MHz processors), to simulate particular missions and scenarios to assist Spirit and Opportunity. Our last visit went to the test facility where they assemble the spacecraft and expose to sever sound, RF and shaking tests before they are sent to the Kenney Space Center for final assembly before launch.
The JPL is usually a closed area for the public, it was really an honor to get a guided tour behind the scenes. Thanks go to the organizers who made all this possible!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

9th iSAIRAS conference

Even though the major topic of this conference was not surgical robotics, I was presenting my previous results here, therefore I will write a few lines about is. iSAIRAS stands for International Symposium on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Automation is Space. The biannual event takes place in Asia, Europe and America in rotation, the latest was the 9th, organized by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 25-29. February. The venue was the Universal City-Hilton in Los Angeles, CA. The program began with an optional tour to the Palomar observatory (see previous post), after that, from Tuesday to Thursday, there were three plenary sessions a day and 20 minutes presentations in three parallel sessions. Approximately 150 participants came from all over the world, and the scientific committee accepted 98 oral presentations and 20 posters.
The keynote speeches covered the related activities of the major space agencies, or reported extensive field tests from interesting missions. As we got to know, NASA’s main focus is to realize the ambitious plan to get back to the Moon by 2020, and send people to the Mars by 2037. Along this path, they plan several robotic Moon missions, but a Mars sample return only around 2020. (The currently running Mars Science Laboratory project’s rover should be launched in 2009.) They have to take it serious, if they want to keep the lead from Russia and China. ESA supports NASA’s human space flights, but prepares its own robotic Mars mission, the ExoMars (scheduled for 2013). JAXA plans a robotic mission to Moon (Selene 2) in 2010, and extensively support the ISS through its newly delivering Kibo module. Canadians will continue to contribute with major hardware elements, such as the Moon Mobility System.
The majority of the sessions I attended were about design considerations for planetary rovers, to make the robots more efficient on rough terrain. A remarkable presentation was given by JPL fellow Matt Heverly on a wheel-on-limb robot, called ATHLETE (All-Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra-Terrestrial Explorer). The prototype has six legs, each is a fully functional 6 DOF manipulator that can move on wheels, step through obstacles or hold a tool. Furthermore, there were presentations on the DARPA sponsored successful ASTRO (Autonomous Space Transport Robotic Operations) mission from last year, when they managed to capture a satellite on orbit with the Canadian robotic hand. DLR plans to conduct a similar experiment on capturing an uncooperative object on orbit with its Lightweight Arm. Other presentations were also interesting, showing new control algorithms and mission architectures, automated designing tools and image based guidance and control; both in theory and practice.
On Wednesday evening, we moved to the nearby Universal Studios - Hollywood, to enjoy the poster session in the Globe Theater. Afterwards, we had a nice dinner with an invited speaker, sci-fi writer David Brin. Beyond publishing, he is also involved in science (and e.g. took part in the committee that named the MER robots). He shared some very interesting views with the audience. He stated that the three most important features we have is the ability to see, know and pay attention; once robots will have it entirely, that will change the society and the world! They will take all our roles, and use us for only the one thing we are best in: wanting. He talked about the singularity of development, an event in the future where the speed of knowledge gathering turns into infinite, and causes some kind of boom or virtual explosion we do not know yet. According to some, this may arrive within a few decades. He said that the big question is whether we can reinvent democracy in the near future and make it work for our society, or people aspiring for more exclusivity (in power) will destroy it and eradicate for an even longer time than after the ancient Romans. After that we went to the nearby IMAX theater and saw the fascinating Discovery movie on the MER robots-Roving Mars. Some key persons of the project, who showed up in the movie, were actually sitting within the audience.
On Friday, we visited the world famous Jet Propulsion Lab. The next post will give details on that tour. All in all, the conference was very successful, showed the best of space robotics. It also gave the opportunity the meet the best professionals of the field. The next iSAIRAS will be in Japan, 2010; all are very welcome!