New surgical camera works like Wii controller

May 17, 2010 8:09:38 AM PDT
The FDA has approved a new head-mounted remote control to assist in laparoscopy. It works like a Wii game controller for surgery and it's already in use at Stanford Medical Center.

"It doesn't take very much practice at all. It's all quite intuitive as far as how to move the camera and what kind of head motions it takes to activate the system," Dr. Benjamin Chung says.

Chung is Director of Laparoscopic and Minimally Invasive Urologic Surgery at Stanford University Medical Center. The system he is using is a robot that controls a camera inside a patient during surgery. Laparoscopic cameras are not new, but controlling them with head movements is.

A representative of the company behind the robot eve says, "It's like a Wii for surgery, if you want to think of it that way."

Cupertino company Prosurgics designed the FreeHand device because laparoscopic surgeons have no free hand to point the scope inside a patient, in our demonstration case, an android in a simulated OR at Stanford.

The way it's done now is to have somebody literally standing beside the surgeon, not only moving according to verbal directions, but trying to hold the camera rock steady for hours at a time.

"Sometimes," says Dr. Chung, "These cases do take a long time and fatigue can set in for the person holding the camera for you."

Here's how it works. The head-mounted remote uses an infrared beam to control arrows and other symbols on a receiver. When the arrow is pointing in the proper direction, the surgeon steps on a button to confirm and control the movement. The robot tilts up, down, left, right and zooms in and out.

So, why not just use voice commands?

Bill Perry, President of ProSurgics explains, "If you're speaking through a mask, a lot of times, voice control doesn't respond as precisely and cleanly as one might think. Head movement control actually has been shown in a direct trial to be superior to voice control."

Freehand is designed to fit on top of existing laparoscopes, the company says, to keep the cost to $20,000. Is that a lot of money? That depends on how you look at it.

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