Forget vacuuming the engineered wood flooring of the super-rich or cuddling old ladies in Japan, there’s a new and exciting job available for the robots of the world: eye surgery.
Surgeons are testing various forms of assistant robot designed specifically for helping to perform operations on the human eye, with the stability and accuracy of their tiny little pincers and blades assisting doctors working in the incredibly delicate and minuscule world of the inside of the eye.
One of the miniature robots is being used in pioneering cases in the UK, with eye expert and Oxford University professor Robert MacLaren using his little helper to assist in a corrective operation on a man’s retina.
The 70-year-old patient had a warped membrane pushing on his retina and breaking his vision, and with the membrane being around a hundredth of a millimeter think, moving it is an incredibly delicate procedure.
Slicing up eyeballs, I want you to know…
So in stepped R2D2 (Robotic Retinal Dissection Device) to help. It poked its mechanical bits through a small incision in the eye and moved the membrane with assistance from its operator, magically fixing the patient’s sight.
Five more patients at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital have since had their eyes attended to by R2’s cold yet sensitive and judder-free fingers, with MacLaren saying of his little assistant: “My movements were improved and finessed by the robot. I could even let go and the robot would hold everything securely in place.”
It has a rival, too. A friendly rival, seeing as all they want to do is help their creators. Axsis is another eye operative, developed by Cambridge Consultants, one so delicate it’s about the size of a coke can with wiring no thicker than a human hair.
The both have the potential to revolutionise other forms of surgery thanks to operating at hitherto impossible scales, with MacLaren promising: “Undoubtedly this will lead to improvements in quality of eye surgery that require highly technical procedures. But most significantly they will open the door to new operations for which the human hand does not have the necessary control and precision.”
Image Credit: Tgoldenburg