Professor Kaspar Althoefer, Queen Mary College, University of London
Science Week Talk
Modern surgical robotic systems such as the da Vinci Surgical System have been employed to conduct minimally invasive or keyhole surgery. Despite a number of notable advances over current laparoscopic methods, such as reduced training time for the surgeons, ease of use of the robotised system and improved ergonomics for the surgeons, such robot-assisted surgical systems continue to make use of rigid instruments severely restricting the areas they can reach during operations.
Departing from these types of robots, which are fundamentally based on a structure composed of rigid link elements connected via joints, the EU project STIFF-FLOP (STIFFness controllable Flexible and Learnable manipulator for surgical OPerations) has created soft multiple-segment manipulators with controllable stiffness. I will highlight the conceptual ideas behind the project, report on our achievements and how these relate to safety considerations in the context of Robot-assisted Minimally Invasive Surgery (RMIS). Challenges emerging when departing from traditionally rigid instruments and progressing towards flexible and even stiffness-controllable surgical tools will be discussed.
Professor Althoefer is an experienced roboticist leading competitively-funded research on soft robotics, intelligent micro-sensing systems and human-robot interaction with applications in minimally invasive surgery, assistive technologies, rehabilitation and manufacturing at Queen Mary University of London, acquired GBP4.5M as PI from national/international funding bodies and successfully completed 19 PhD projects.
Professor Althoefer's research team currently comprising of 10 members (postdoctoral research associates and PhD students) is involved in funded collaborative research with leading London hospitals and European research organisations creating novel robot-assisted solutions for cardiac catheterisation, foetal ultrasound monitoring, tissue diagnosis using miniaturised stiffness sensors and ergonomically-optimised human-robot interaction. Over the last decade, the team has built a large portfolio of projects in application-oriented research for the healthcare and manufacturing sectors with funding from organisations such as EPSRC, European Commission (including coordination of two EU-projects), Wellcome Trust and UK-based charities, exceeding GBP30M and producing more than 250 peer-reviewed papers.