Being a surgeon is a pretty high-stress job, and relies heavily on surgical assistants for things like setting clamps and holding tools. Researchers from Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute are looking to lighten the load a little, by developing a metal hand that lets surgeons more directly control what’s happening on the operating table.

From tools designed to compensate for shaking hands to a handheld 3D printer just for surgeons, we’ve seen technology used in medicine in some pretty interesting ways over the years. Now, the Fraunhofer Institute is looking to change things up on the operating table, working on a mechanical assistant that could let surgeons personally control more aspects of procedures than ever before.

The device, which is a sort of robotic arm, is designed to hold standard surgical instruments common in operating rooms. It can, for example, operate an endoscope, which is used to take footage of inside a patient’s body. Once the doctor makes the initial incision, the robotic arm can hold the tool and manipulate its position without damaging the incision point at all.

Currently, the system is controlled via gestures, dispensing with the need to wear special sterile gloves. A screen shows a visual representation of the doctor’s hand, with a small dot representing the position of the tool being manipulated. He or she can perform a grabbing motion to select and then move the instrument.

Of course, there’s one big problem with that method of control – a surgeon generally needs both their hands to perform the job at hand. To combat the control shortfall, the researchers are currently working to enable voice control. This will require the doctor to set up certain movements linked to commands, so that when he or she says a command such as “retract,” the mechanical hand will respond with the appropriate action exactly as expected.

It’s an ambitious goal, and one that the team is striving towards, having already completed a demonstration model. Early trials of the robot hand have also begun, with the goal addressing just how effective it’s likely to prove in practice, as well as what improvements need to be made.

The demo model will be officially revealed at the MEDICA trade fair in Dusseldorf on November 16, alongside the concept user interface.

Source: Fraunhofer