Force Feedback Helps Doctors Poke Patients With Robots

A popular method of adding more immersion to video games could make a life or death difference to doctors using robotic proxies to perform delicate surgery.

See that dangerous-looking machine in the picture up top? That's Sofie the surgical robot, and one day her pointy bits might be fishing about your insides, trying to repair the broken bits. If that happens, you'll be happy to know that Sofie is equipped with force feedback controls.

What's so important about force feedback? Isn't that just a gimmick? The PlayStation 3 Sixaxis did fine without it!

No, no it didn't.

And force feedback is much more than a gimmick for doctors using robots to conduct highly complicated and precise operations. They can see what the robots are doing. They can direct the robot's actions, but as it stands, they can't feel what the robot is doing.

Feeling can mean the difference between making a small incision in an artery and slicing off half of a lung.

Perhaps that's a bit dramatic, but doctors do use feeling on a regular basis. It can tell them where to cut, or when they've reached a certain vital organ, or when a tiny needle has been inserted into a patient's veins just right.

Traditional surgical robots don't have any feeling. This is why it is okay to kill and eat them.

It's also why researcher Linda van dem Bedem at Technische Universiteit Eindhoven is working on Sofie. Sofie stands for "Surgeon's Operating Force-feedback Interface Eindhoven." Once completed, Sofie will utilize force feedback technology to allow surgeons to feel how much pressure they are applying while performing delicate operations like applying sutures or pushing a bit of tissue aside so they can fish their car keys out of your intestines.

The tactile feedback will be delivered via the joystick doctors use to control the robot, which rules out the Sixaxis.

Not only will Sofie provide force feedback, she's also smaller than the giant, clunky surgical robots currently in use, which translates into more efficient operations overall.

It'll be five years or so before Sofie can be released on the market. I'd avoid getting sick before then, just in case.

Better Surgery With New Surgical Robot With Force Feedback [Science Daily]