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A “smarter” surgical tool

A group of university researchers from England, Greece, Italy and Germany have designed a mechatronic drill that relies on sensors and intelligent control for enhanced tissue penetration precision and distinction for use in complex and delicate orthopaedic surgery. This “smart” surgical tool promises to benefit both the surgeon and the patient.


This consortium of research and industry specialists has constructed the hand-held mechatronic tool while keeping to surgeons' specifications and needs as a foremost priority. The resulting technology facilitates surgical techniques by detecting precisely when the drill crosses between tissue layers, providing real-time data as to the exact position of the drill bit inside the bone via a graphical interface, and allowing the surgeon to automatically stop the drill feed. The innovative advantages and benefits of this new technology are manifold. Firstly, the tool displays effective penetration control, as the maximum protrusion is much lower than the specified limits in all the modes. This proves to be a competitive advantage over conventional drills. Also, as the surgeon controls the tool entirely through a footswitch, it allows medical professionals to solely concentrate on the position of the drill bit and on the maintenance of orientation precision and adequate exertion of thrust force. These innovative features make the tool especially user-friendly to surgeons. Of course, a short training course is required if the surgeon is not experienced in the operation of such tools. Furthermore, the researchers have designed enhanced software to accompany the mechatronic device. The software is written in C++ using a library of specially written real-time classes. Each class then performs a specific control task. In essence, each one of these classes might be thought of as a hardware block while the main code acts as the connection between these blocks. Most importantly, the core of the control algorithm can be altered if a superior algorithm is available. Thus, the control software is very manageable and can be updated easily. Another important feature of this mechatronic tool is that the system provides information about the position of the drill bit inside the tissue or bone in real-time via a graphical interface. This is accomplished without interrupting the surgical procedure and without the need for X-ray screening. This aspect is particularly beneficial to the safety of medical professionals as a reduction of X-ray exposure significantly improves professional safety standards. Similarly, this new technology increases patient safety. This tool exhibits extremely secure handling features during the surgical procedure as the mechatronic device is operated directly by the surgeon who can stop the drilling immediately if the need arises. Also, an emergency-stops button for the tool ensures a back-up safety measure in case of malfunction. It is also crucial to highlight that this “smart” surgical tool increases the quality and accessibility of such difficult operations, and thus directly benefits the patient. This innovation also reduces patient recovery time and risk as surgical techniques become less invasive.

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