New technology may be ushering in the age of robotic surgery, but there is still a role for cutting-edge electronics to play in augmenting a surgeon's natural talents. The latest example of this comes from Germany, where researchers have proposed a way for doctors to operate using their own standard instruments by developing a special handle that fits on most surgical tools and lights up to indicate when enough pressure has been used during a procedure.
The handle was developed through a collaboration with the Stuttgart-based Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA and Weber Instrumente GmbH. Researchers built the device with younger, inexperienced surgeons in mind, hoping a visual aid during a procedure will help them hone their skills.
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At only 9 centimeters (approx 3.5 inches) in length, the handle is designed to screw onto most conventional surgical instruments, such as spreaders and screwdrivers. Sensors embedded in the handle will measure the amount of force being applied to whatever tool is attached and light up a red LED once it reaches a pre-set limit. That way, the surgeon will know for sure if a screw can be tightened more or a tool can be inserted further without having to rely purely on experience.
In designing the handle, researchers had to ensure it was one solid piece with no seams or crevasses where bacteria could accumulate. Thus, all of the electronic components fit inside the handle and are powered through induction. Once it's set on a corresponding induction table, a coil in the handle will charge it wirelessly. The handle is also coated in transparent silicon, so the LED can be clearly seen when it's lit inside, and the entire device can be sterilized at 134º C (273.2º F) without risking any damage to the electronics.
Though it sounds similar to the board game, Operation, it's not hard to see how a tool like this could help newer surgeons, but it's unlikely to replace the precision that comes from years of experience any time soon. In the future, the developers plan to incorporate a wireless interface as well, so data on each procedure can be streamed and documented on a PC.
Fraunhofer will present a prototype of its new surgical tool at the upcoming Medtec trade show in Stuttgart from February 26 - 28.