Though, medical professionals have begun using machines in particular surgeries, it's just recently that the help of tiny robots is utilized to improve the precision of eye operations.
Just last year, Robert MacLaren, ophthalmologist and professor at Oxford University, used a tiny robotic arm into William Beaver’s eye. The 70-year-old priest’s retina had its membrane snapped, leaving it with an uneven shape, and causing him to see the world as if it's a hall of mirrors.
The RD2D robot helps surgeons make very small incisions and other movements inside the human eye. (c) technologyreview
MacLaren used a joystick and a camera feed to guide the arm of the Robotic Retinal Dissection Device, or R2D2. With the use of this technology Maclaren made a miniscule incision in the eye, before lifting the wrinkled membrane, no more than a hundredth of a millimeter thick, from the retina. This procedure reversed Beaver’s vision problems.
Since then, five more patients have undergone robot-assisted operations at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital in England. Cases include, one in which a virus was planted on the retina itself, which a procedure that can be done by R2D2.
“My movements were improved and finessed by the robot,” MacLaren says in a statement
. “I could even let go and the robot would hold everything securely in place.”
R2D2 is developed by Preceyes BV
, a Dutch medical robotics firm established by the University of Eindhoven. It is not the only robot for the human eye. Chris Wagner, head of advanced surgical systems at Cambridge Consultants, has led a team in the development of Axsis—one of the smallest known robots for surgical use, its external body is the size of a can of soda.
“Building a surgical robot that can work on the size scale of the lens of an eye, which is less than 10 millimeters across, is difficult,” Wagner told MIT
Estimated cost of the robots is around $1 million. Axsis, however, are prototype robots that are currently unavailable in the market. Experts hope that in the future, these robots will be affordable for smaller hospitals.
“With this system, we're trying to expand the range of procedures that should be considered candidates for robotic technology, in terms of the size of the manipulations and the size of the access,” says Wagner. “It’s clearly not necessary. But these robots do open up a new chapter of operations that are currently impossible.”