Robot surgery units have been a recurring trope in science fiction for many years. Recall the delightful scene from Prometheus in which an alien squid is removed from an abdomen. And now, reality appears to be catching up to fiction. A doctor named Peter Kim is developing a prototype surgery machine that may be ready to operate in the near future.
Dr. Kim is the vice president of the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children's National Health System in Washington, D.C. He is calling the robot STAR, which stands for Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot. It will use 3D imaging technology and advanced sensors to guide its surgical implements. According to Dr. Kim, the robot will be better equipped to perform precise surgeries than a human doctor. He claims it can see "more than what human vision spectrum would allow." STAR, he claims, will outperform modern surgical techniques used by human surgeons.
"When we compare this to a current surgical standard done by open technique," says Kim, "Minimally invasive technique or robot-assisted technique, this robot performed better than experienced surgeons."
STAR has already been used and appears to work. According to New Scientist, in May, STAR "successfully operated on live soft tissue without human assistance." It was the first time a robot has ever done so.
Hopefully, STAR and similar technologies will help make surgery less risky for patients. Dr. Kim says, "At the same time, it democratizes the way we do a surgery so that anyone can have access to this technology in any place."
Kim reassures us that his intention is not to replace human doctors with machines, but to aid them. "The goal is not to simply take away or replace surgeons, but really enhance surgeons' capacity and capability. In the future, tools will work with surgeons in saving lives."
If robots do help us democratize medicine, and make complicated surgery more affordable and accessible to anyone who needs it, then we should celebrate the influx of robotics into surgical medicine. But obviously, it's a bit of a brow-furrower. Would you want to be on the table as we work out the bugs in the system?
We don't know how soon we'll be able to start using STAR, but technology accelerates so quickly that it will likely be within the next few years. Hopefully they don't give the robot surgeons Arnold Schwarzenegger's voice. Okay, hopefully they do.