Watch a robot operate more competently than a surgeon


An autonomous robot sewed pig bowels together better than expert surgeons – albeit under supervision.

Researchers from the Children’s National Health System in Washington and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore made the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) "super smart" by programming it with the best surgeons' techniques.

And while STAR isn't completely autonomous, co-designer Peter Kim says in the video above that the robot is around 40% supervised. Only minor adjustments were made by an operator while the surgeries were in progress.

He likens this to watching a child take its first steps – a parent might be extra cautious in making sure it's OK. STAR can operate fully autonomously, he adds.

Around 45 million soft tissue surgeries are performed in the US each year. Some of these are already completed by robots such as the Da Vinci Surgical System which specialises in prostate procedures.

But systems such as Da Vinci are manually controlled, and how smoothly an operation goes still depends on the controlling surgeon's expertise. 

So efforts to give some control to autonomous robots, which have minimal to no human input, could reduce surgical complications. 

Kim's team designed and programmed STAR specifically to perform complex procedures such as intestinal anastomosis where two segments of bowel are stitched together.

Rigged with surgical tools and a robotic arm, STAR's intestinal anastomosis sutures were better than those made by expert surgeons and the Da Vinci system. And all pigs survived the procedure without complications.

STAR was unveiled in Science Translational Medicine.

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