This year’s IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) was held May 12-17. in Kobe. Although the main focus of the conference is still localization, motion control and bio-inspired robotics, medical robotics and haptics received significant attenton, and the rooms of these sessions were full all the time. Beyond Japanese, German people were dominant; mostly form TU Münich, DLR and Freiburg. As for the USA, Hopkins (the haptics lab), Stanford and CMU had more significant presence. The invited lectures, plenary talks, industrial forum, robot challenge went in the regular way, there were no relevant topics. (The most interesting plenary was from Prof. Nayar on imaging and the future of digital photography.) The haptic sessions had most topics with human feedback and needle procedures, while medical section had a wide variety of topics. (Publications are all available through IEEE Xplore.) Here, only a few major projects presented at ICRA are highlighted:

- The robotics people at DLR under Gerd Hirzinger have long been doing world class robot design and building. Their latest system, the MIRO is based on the light-weight DLR Arm III, and should be down on the path to commercialization soon. It integrates torque sensing capabilities on the joint level to enable close interaction with humans in unstructured environments. The complex joints consist of an actuation module, position sensing module and a torque sensing module (based on aluminium parts with mounted strain gages, capable of oversampling). The robot can run in torque and impedance control mode, where the user can guide the robot to a desired position or on a desired trajectory by hand (“gravity compensation mode”). Virtual springs (virtual potential fields) are used to impose constraint forces which prevent the robot from entering predefined areas. Due to the kinematical redundancy of the manipulator, the inner joints of the robot can be controlled in compliance mode separately, i.e. reposition themselves in the case of collision or other force effects. As the force readings are integrated to the low level control loop, this gives additional safety to the system working in close cooperation with humans. The total surgical setup consists of 41 DOF.
- Greg Fisher (Hopkins graduate) has his lab now at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and continues to design and build innovative robotic systems for MR percutaneous therapies. Their latest device is meant for accurate electrode placement in deep brain stimulation. The robot performs the insertion under real-time 3T MR image guidance. This allows for the monitoring of tissue deformation, real-time visualization of insertion, and confirmation of placement. The current prototype is mounted on a 3 DOF platform, has 2-DOF RCM motion and a yoke that gives 2 additional DOF. They will begin soon the validation experiments including the accuracy and MR safety tests.

- An interesting concept was presented from Paolo Dario’s lab: self assembling swallow-able robots for NOTES. Each segment of the robot can perform 2 DOF motion, (±90° of bending and 360° of rotation), measuring 15.4 mm in diameter and 36.5
mm in length. The modules attach to each other through magnetic connectors, allowing for many different configurations in the stomach for surgery. The current prototype does not have wireless connection yet, and the optimal strategy for disassembly and retrieval is still under consideration.
- Most of the forty-some exhibitors were hardware manufacturers or book publishers, however there was one interesting booth, representing the ROBOCAST. The ROBOCAST project is an EU FP7 funded international research that „focuses on robot assisted keyhole neurosurgery. Related pathologies are tumors, hydrocephalus, dystonia, essential tremor, Parkinson’s Disease, Tourette Syndrome, clinical depression, phantom limb pain, cluster headache and epilepsy. The ROBOCAST project outcome will be a system for the assistance of the surgeon during keyhole interventions on the brain. It will have a mechatronic part and an intelligence part. The mechatronic device will consist of a robot holding the instruments for the surgeon and inserting them in the brain with a smooth and precise controlled autonomous movement. The trajectory will be defined by the intelligence of the ROBOCAST system and will be approved by the surgeon, which is and remains the responsible of the outcome, before the insertion of the surgical instruments.” It began in 2007 and now they are getting ready to the first clinical trials with a prototype.


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