Treatments

Why Use Tweezers To Play Operation When A Robot Will Do?

I used to think I was pretty good at Operation, the goofy game where you remove a funny bone, spare rib, or broken heart from a hapless guy whose light bulb of a nose buzzes and turns red with every flub.

But I would never make the mistake of challenging Carol Reiley, who's working on a doctorate in computer science at Johns Hopkins, to a game. As you can see from the video, which has been making the rounds on the Internet lately, she has a fancy Da Vinci robot on her side.

These expensive surgical robots are all the rage at hospitals these days, though some have questioned whether they're really such an improvement over an experienced surgeon with a sharp scalpel.

No question that Reiley makes quick work of the patient's wish bone. But an eagle-eyed commenter on YouTube noticed the robot wasn't using the game probe, so there would be no buzzer action if Reiley had made a mistake.

I emailed Reiley about that niggling point. She graciously replied:

Yes, we could've grounded the robot and completed the circuit to make the nose buzz. But since it was a 2 million dollar machine, we decided against it. And it was a late night in lab.

Alternatively, she wrote, the team could have tried using the robot to pick up the game tweezers. But, she said, the main thing they wanted to do was "focus on the robot's dexterity and hand-tremor reduction."

She says there's another cool video in the works and hints that it will have something to do with "autonomous surgery," a subject of her research.

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