Seriously, this skull-drilling robot is good news for humanity

When someone invents a robot specifically made to drill into
the skulls of unconscious, immobile humans, you’d be forgiven
for feeling a natural reaction along the lines of “for the love
of God, why?” But trust me, this particular robotic trepanation
station is a good idea.

The issue surrounds what is called microsurgery, in
particular, installing cochlear implants, tiny devices that relay
sound directly to the inner ear of someone with a hearing

The procedure to implant these things is performed tens of
thousands of times per year, but it’s a risky and extremely
fiddly one where the slightest error or involuntary movement
can cause constant damage.

As in other situations where precision is critical, machines
can be of help. In this case, researchers from the University
of Bern have been working on a robot that performs the most
delicate and potentially damaging step: drilling into the skull
at the precise location and depth to give access to the right
part of the cochlea.

Yes, they have special drill bits just for getting through
skull and tissue. The iii and iv parts of the figure are
proposed but untested further opportunities for robotic
implantation procedures.

The team’s paper, published
today in Science Robotics
, reports the success of using the
robot for drilling purposes, and proposes further applications,
such as the actual implantation processes.

In the meantime, they use the drilling process as a platform to
prove that the robot can hook into surgery planning systems,
stereo vision, live detection of tissue types and so on. Other
microsurgeries could also benefit from the technology.

If the Robo calypses comes, they won’t need a treatment plan to
drill into your brain. Until that happens, robots like this
could provide some much-needed consistency in surgical
procedures that, like this one, exist at the boundary of what
humans are capable of.


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