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AI surgical training device in development by UK Robotarium

A surgical training device, powered by artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor human movements in real-time, has been developed in a bid to improve keyhole and laparoscopic surgeries.

Designed in a collaboration between researchers at the UK’s National Robotarium, based at  Heriot-Watt University in Scotland and the Dundee Institute for Healthcare Simulation at the University of Dundee, the surgical training system is intended to help trainee surgeons hone their skills at one of the more challenging surgeries.

Named AILap, the device is designed to use machine learning and machine vision technologies with physical box trainers in hopes of reducing the overall time and labour costs involved in training by providing more immediate and detailed feedback.

The device was developed in response to a 2013 survey from the surgical-training body the Fellowship Council that found that as many as 56% of fellows who had finished their training were not able to sufficiently execute laparoscopic suturing.

At the same time, the survey found that as many as 30% could not independently perform a laparoscopic cholecystectomy and that 21% of respondent program directors felt that new fellows arrived unprepared for the operating room.

AILap project lead Dr Mustafa Suphi Erden said: “Laparoscopy training takes a significant amount of time to learn and currently requires access to training platforms and guidance from expert surgeons who are often time-poor. That’s why AILap technology has the potential to play an incredibly important role in supporting professional training in our public services and health systems.

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“We hope AILap will enable the training of a greater number of surgeons without the need of expert supervision. The technology will work with off-the-shelf components so it will be affordable and accessible for health care systems around the world.”

The device will allow trainee surgeons to improve their skills by way of self-directed exercises through which the device will provide feedback as it monitors the user’s movements. It will also allow clinical academics responsible for the training of surgeons to restructure programmes to teach more trainees.

The project has also been awarded £600,000 from the UK Government by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Stewart Miller, CEO of the National Robotarium, said: “The announcement of this pioneering research project follows twelve months in which our dedicated teams of researchers, academics and engineers have delivered a breadth of cutting-edge innovation on the world stage in social and medical care, agritech, the global energy transition and beyond.

“AILap is another important milestone in that story and one which I believe demonstrates Scotland and the UK’s role at the forefront of global developments in AI and robotics.”

The National Robotarium is a robotics and AI facility supported by £21 million from the UK Government and £1.4 million from the Scottish Government through the £1.3 billion Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal – a 15-year investment programme jointly funded by both governments and regional partners.

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