October 28th, 2013 Exploring Haptics: See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me



On Monday, October 28, 2013, OLC attended NUI Central’s event: Exploring Haptics with Ken Steinberg, founder of Cambridge Research and Development; CEO of Cambridge Surgical Instruments.


Laparoscopic surgery is a surgery where a surgeon goes in and puts a trocar into the patient and they’re using laparoscopic tools to perform minimally invasive surgery [MIS]. However, using this procedure, surgeons lose their sense of touch. “This causes a lot of ancillary damage,” Ken said. “This is first-degree haptics: you get a little bit of feedback. You’re grasping soft tissue and you’re hoping it’s not damaging tissue. Second-degree haptics is the robotic kind and the surgeon is using nothing but sight to control the robot.”

According to Ken, with second-degree feedback, one can’t feel what they are doing.  “With haptics, you know them as vibrations and force feedback. Well, surgeons don’t want vibrations—they want it to be dampened, but they do want some feedback. They also don’t want force feedback either, but instead, want a middle ground,” he said.

“We would love to jack into the machine interface with our mind. The best user interface is the neural machine, but no surgeons will do that because direct interfacing might kill someone,” Ken said.

He talked about the limitation of robotics, especially in surgery, police and military life. “Because of the lack of feedback, they are mostly visual and not touch.” Ken also revealed that here is something critical missing from haptics, which is, “There is nothing that approximates natural user interface.”

Ken explained that to train surgeons, a small box with artificial tissue is used to simulate operations, but now, surgeons are getting not enough training time. “It takes time to develop the sense [to use trocars], but it isn’t happening.”

There are a number of things that the NUI robotics fields should consider:

  • Don’t impact operation dexterity.
  • No vibration or force reflection.
  • Be lightweight
  • Be cost-effective
  • Be portable
  • Be environmentally compatible

To Ken, the best NUI today is linear actuation. “Nerve endings are the best feedback,” he said. “But the problem is that the linear actuation is big and it’s underperforming.” Thus, he created NEO, which allows operators to feel what they are doing while performing surgery. “Haptic feedback enhances robot dexterity and removing the surgeon’s hands means no natural feedback,” he said.