Maker creates an inexpensive surgical robot with Arduino


Will DIY surgical robots one day provide an accessible alternative to costly professional healthcare services?


Over the past decade, robots have drastically revolutionized surgery in terms of their abilities to remotely carry out complicated procedures with enhanced precision and dexterity, reducing the risk of complications while speeding up the recovery process. However, these next-generational machines can cost upwards of $200,000 — just out of reach for most Makers.

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With this in mind, Frank Kolkman at London’s Design Interactions/RCA set out to explore whether building DIY surgical robots, outside the scope of regulations, could plausibly provide an accessible alternative to expensive professional healthcare services worldwide. The OpenSurgery project aims to provoke alternative thinking about medical innovation by challenging the socioeconomic frameworks that the industry currently operates within.

With a price tag of under $5,000, the DIY robot was prototyped using a series of laser-cut and 3D-printed parts along with several readymade components. Meanwhile, the medical tools were ordered directly from Alibaba for around $40 and came in sterile packaging.

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“Another realization during the staring phases of the project was that you could simply re-appropriate domestic devices to account for not having access to hospital infrastructure. A simple domestic oven turned to 160 degrees Centigrade for 4 hours, would be a simple alternative to an autoclave, and for plastic parts you might even be able to use a microwave,” the Maker writes.

With a design resembling that of an open source 3D printer, an Arduino Mega (ATmega2560) handles the serial communication over USB while a RAMPS 1.4 shield drives a pair of servo motors. As for its software, the Maker commissioned the help of Marcel Helmer and Riccardo Lardi to devise a Processing sketch that would allow for the control of all the motors separately over serial from a simple ControlP5 interface. In time, though, Kolkman hopes to use a PlayStation3 controller to command the arms.

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Conceptually, the robot is designed to perform simple procedures like laparoscopic surgery, which includes no more than a few tiny incisions for a surgeon to go inside a patient’s body. This would enable the DIY gadget to theoretically carry out operations like appendectomies,hysterectomies and GI inspections. As FastCoDesign notes, these procedures already call upon the assistance of robotic system. Kolkman would simply be removing the doctor out of the equation.

While you may not see DIY robots attempting surgery anytime soon, nor would we want to, the project is pretty cool nonetheless and certainly provokes an alternative way of thinking. More importantly, it demonstrates the sort of contributions to healthcare that the Maker community can provide.

Intrigued? Head over to the project’s official page here.

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