Connectivity Solutions for the Next-Generation of Surgical Robots

Article #2 of Improving Lives with Digital Healthcare Series: Improved healthcare robots facilitate minimally invasive surgical procedures with features like visualization, precision movement, and tactile feedback. Having a good connectivity infrastructure supporting the devices ensures reliability

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21 Jul, 2022

This is the second article in an 8-part series featuring articles on Improving Lives with Digital Healthcare. The series focuses on electronic systems that enable innovation in the healthcare industry. This series is sponsored by Mouser Electronics. Through the sponsorship, Mouser Electronics shares its passion for technologies that enable smarter and connected applications.

Development in robotics has completely transformed the landscape of manufacturing. The speed and precision that make robots valuable for industrial applications also make them attractive in the medical field. 

In this article, we look at the present state of robotic surgery. We explain how advancements in robotics and communication, combined with the expertise of surgeons, enable customized treatments for patients. 

Advancements in Robotics for Improved Healthcare

Healthcare professionals are constantly developing new techniques to provide the greatest possible care for patients—treatments that include improved clinical outcomes and reduced hospitalizations. The first robots in the medical world were introduced in the late1980s and were designed to facilitate surgeries with robotic arms and optical instruments.[1]

One of the most significant advantages of using robots for surgery is facilitating keyhole surgery or surgery through small ports. Unlike traditional open surgery, a small incision is made in the patient through which a robotic arm is inserted. This arm can “extend the surgeon’s hands” into the precise location of the anatomy where the surgeon will perform the required procedure. The port’s small size means that damage to healthy tissue is kept to a minimum, reducing both patient discomfort and the time needed for recovery.

Surgeons using surgical robots can perform operations with previously unachievable precision. By making the robot an extension of the surgeon’s mind and skills, suturing, dissecting, and retracting tissue can be more precise, guided by 3D cameras that can simultaneously improve visualization and record or stream the procedure.

Medical Treatments Tailored to the Patient

Because every patient is different and has a unique anatomy, each will uniquely present symptoms. Robotic tools are designed to augment the surgeon’s skills in understanding the subtleties involved in treating patients, including how to take patients’ unique anatomies and disease manifestations into account, with the precision that robotic systems can deliver.

Robots in medical procedures allow the surgeon to reach places that would have previously required invasive techniques and their associated hazards. The challenge of providing visualization, precision movement, and tactile feedback to facilitate the surgical procedure, all within minimally invasive instruments and tools, means electronic systems are under increasing pressure to provide more sophistication in smaller packages. Medical robots need to perform all these tasks, and to do so, they must possess communication systems with low latency and high reliability.

Applying Fiber Optics for Data and Energy Transfer

One of the most exciting aspects of this latest generation of robots is the use of optical technology. Fiber has long been used in the telecommunications industry due to its ability to carry large amounts of data over long distances. In the medical environment too, fiber is being used in different ways. 

Its small diameter is ideal for employment in minimally-invasive surgery, and its unique properties allow it to be used to provide surgeons with high-resolution, real-time visualization. In addition, new sources of energy are being used to deliver treatment to highly localized areas without damaging the surrounding tissue. One of these techniques is laser therapy, which can be applied with remarkable precision using optical fiber.

Elsewhere in the robot, large numbers of sensors are collecting data about everything from the positioning of the device to the resistance being encountered. Data collection is incredibly vital, as surgeons depend on the information provided by the sensors to give the “feel” or “touch” of the instrument. The use of haptic controls provides the surgeons with the feedback they need while conducting delicate operations. 

Therefore, the modern surgical robot is a complex, autonomous device that can serve as an extension of the surgeon’s own hands. Far from replacing these professionals with decades of experience, these highly sophisticated machines enable the best surgeons to deliver minimally-invasive care and facilitate faster recovery for patients.

Integrating Complex Subsystems with Multifuncional Connectors

This sophistication comes at a cost, however. Combining complex functionality into a single machine—with optimal levels of visualization, precision movement, and tactile feedback—requires complex electronics systems, and systems engineers are under pressure to deliver the best possible performance in the smallest possible package. This complexity of connections becomes even more significant when the time comes to connect the robot to the outside world.

The growing complexity of surgical robots, coupled with the broad range of tasks they need to perform, is creating challenges for interconnect designers. The extensive use of microelectronics and multiple operating modes bring with them the need for higher connector densities and mixed contact types. With the need to incorporate power, signal, high voltage, and even optical fiber, engineers require connector solutions that are adaptable and reliable.

Molex High-Performance Interconnects for Advanced Medical Applications

Molex has a comprehensive range of connectors that have been designed specifically for use in the medical industry. Its dedicated family of configurable connectors and cable assemblies are instrumental in providing the hybrid connectivity demanded by medical robots. 

Fig. 1: Molex MediSpec MPC Interconnect System

Molex MediSpec Medical Plastic Circular (MPC) Interconnect System combines premium performance and ease of use to meet the stringent standards of medical devices. MediSpec MPC connectors utilize a Molex contact system to ensure a reliable electrical interface and 10,000 mating cycles. MediSpec connectors offer push-pull engagement with a unique locking sleeve. 

Lightweight medical-grade plastic housings withstand medical industry sterilization processes, including autoclave, ethylene oxide (EtO), gamma, and chemical. An IP64 rating option is available, protecting against dust ingress and splashing water. In addition to various medical applications, these Molex connectors are also ideal for instrumentation, test and measurement, avionics, data acquisition, and entertainment equipment. 

Conclusion

Robots used by doctors performing critical surgeries are expected to handle a large amount of data from various sensors and 3D cameras. At the same time, these robots may also have to deliver optical energy at precise locations if required during the surgical procedure. It is essential to make sure the connectivity infrastructure used in the medical robots performs actions and collects feedback reliably, in real-time. 

This can be achieved by making use of medical applications-centric connectivity systems. With the right tools in hand, product engineers can be assured their devices for the end-users comply with the highest standards of reliability.

This article was initially published by Mouser and Molex in an e-magazine. It has been substantially edited by the Wevolver team and Electrical Engineer Ravi Y Rao. It's the first article from the Improving Lives with Digital Healthcare Series. Future articles will introduce readers to some more interesting applications of electronics in healthcare.


Introductory article covered the fundamentals of biomedical instruments and the ways in which digitizing them is transforming healthcare. 

Article 1 explored the design challenges in Consumer and Medical wearables. It showcased how technologies once limited to hospitals are now made available to everyone for monitoring personal health.

Article 2 was focused on the present state of robotic surgery. It explained how advancements in robotics and communication, combined with the expertise of surgeons, enable customized treatments for patients. 

Article 3 presents an overview of how new sensing, communication, and energy systems, engineered for the healthcare sector can be used to transform cardiovascular disease treatment procedures.

Article 4 examined Brain-Computer Interfaces and how they help in enhancing human vision, motor recovery for disabled limbs, and more.

Article 5 featured an informative webchat between Mike Depp, and Glen Capek from Molex, as they discussed trends in flexible electronics driving new solutions for medical wearables applications. 

Article 6 discussed how immersive digital technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) make medical learning more engaging through lifelike experiences.


About the sponsor: Mouser Electronics

Mouser Electronics is a worldwide leading authorized distributor of semiconductors and electronic components for over 1,100 manufacturer brands. They specialize in the rapid introduction of new products and technologies for design engineers and buyers. Their extensive product offering includes semiconductors, interconnects, passives, and electromechanical components.

References

[1] Moore, Eric J.. "robotic surgery". Encyclopedia Britannica, 23 Nov. 2018, [Online], Available from: https://www.britannica.com/science/robotic-surgery.

21 Jul, 2022

Global Director of Medical Sales at Molex

Wevolver 2022