Robotic surgery, telerobotic surgery, telepresence, and telementoring
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Although laparoscopic cholecystectomy rapidly became the standard of care for the surgical treatment of cholelithiasis, very few other abdominal or cardiac operations are currently performed using minimally invasive surgical techniques. The inherent limitations of traditional laparoscopic surgery make it difficult to perform these operations. We, and others, have attempted to use robotic technology to (a) provide a stable camera platform, (b) replace two-dimensional with three-dimensional (3-D) imaging, (c) simulate the fluid motions of a surgeon's wrist to overcome the motion limitations of straight laparoscopic instruments, and (d) offer the surgeon a comfortable, ergonomically optimal operating position. In this article, we review the early published clinical experience with surgical robotic and telerobotic systems and assess their current limitations. The voice-controlled AESOP robot replaces the cameraperson and facilitates the performance of solo-surgeon laparoscopic operations. AESOP provides a stable camera platform and avoids motion sickness in the operative team. The telerobotic Zeus and da Vinci surgical systems permit solo surgery by a surgeon from a remote sight. These telerobots hold the camera, replace the surgeon's two hands with robotic instruments, and serve in a master–slave relationship for the surgeon. Their robotic instruments simulate the motions of the surgeon's wrist, facilitating dissection. Both telerobots use 3-D imaging to immerse the surgeon in a three-dimensional video operating field. These robots also provide operating positions for the surgeon console that are ergonomically superior to those required by traditional laparoscopy. The technological advances of these telerobots now permit telepresence surgery from remote locations, even locations thousands of miles away. In addition, telepresence permits the telementoring of novice surgeons who are performing new procedures by expert surgeons in remote locations. The studies reviewed here indicate that robotics and telerobotics offer potential solutions to the inherent problems of traditional laparoscopic surgery, as well as new possibilities for telesurgery and telementoring. Nonetheless, these technologies are still in an early stage of development, and each device entails its own set of challenges and limitations for actual use in clinical settings.
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