Hospitals open the door to sci-fi's medical robots

Exhibition reveals huge advances that are turning futuristic fantasies into surgical reality

From the tiny submarine injected into the human body in the film Fantastic Voyage in 1966, to the hologram Doctor in Star Trek: Voyager in 1995, medical robots have long fuelled the imaginations of science fiction writers.

Now many of those fantasies are coming true and on Tuesday the Royal College of Surgeons will exhibit some of the advances that in just five years could see tiny robots going to work inside patients.

Sci-Fi Surgery: Medical Robots will also show technology that is in use, such as the Probot, a robot designed to aid prostate gland surgery, and Freehand, a robotic camera holder for keyhole surgery.

It is the prototypes, however, that are likely to catch the imagination. Injecting a tiny submarine into the human body so it can fix a blood clot on the brain made a great story in 1966, but the authors of Fantastic Voyage were not far wrong in their vision of the future.

Among the machines on display at the exhibition are tiny robot cameras just 15mm long that can be swallowed and then guided by doctors using remote control and a TV screen for a guide. Another intriguing prototype is the Italian-designed Ares Robot, which would require patients to swallow up to 15 robotic modules. Once inside the body the modules assemble themselves into a larger device capable of carrying out surgical procedures.

"I think the most exciting thing in the future is how do we move from surgery to 'incisionless' surgery, in other words doing procedures without any incisions," said Lord Darzi, the co-director of the Hamlyn Centre for Robotic Surgery at Imperial College London.

Lord Darzi predicts that robot capsule pills could be widely used in hospitals within the next three to five years. He says robotics "will completely change everything we do".

On a larger scale, a "Da Vinci" robotic system is already being used in a number of British hospitals to operate on patients. The machine, which is a monitor linked up to several robotic arms that can be controlled by the surgeon, is more precise than either open surgery or standard keyhole procedures.

Surgery is not the only area where robots are making an impact. Two weeks ago researchers in Japan unveiled a nursing robot built in the shape of a giant teddy bear. Called Riba – Robot for Interactive Body Assistance – it is designed to help doctors and nurses by lifting patients in and out of their beds.

The exhibition will also pay homage to the science fiction that helped inspire real life robots, such as the 1920s Psychophonic Nurse, Japanese manga (printed cartoons) and anime (animated films), plus the comic book anthology 2000AD, which depicted future robot wars.

"Many mini and micro robots have biologically inspired designs that emulate the crawling and wriggling motion of worms and insects, or the swimming motion of bacteria," said Dr Arianna Menciassi, Associate Professor of Biomedical Robotics at Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa, Italy, which developed Ares.

"We turned to biological inspiration because worms have locomotion systems suited to unstructured, slippery environments and are ideally suited for use in the human body."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?