Let’s Talk: Robotics!


Robotics is an interdisciplinary field of engineering that involves the study of robots and how these intelligent machines can be applied to a wide variety of fields, such as surgery and diagnostics. Currently in cancer treatment, robotics can aid the removal of hard-to-reach tumours using minimally invasive methods that require only a small incision instead of a large surgical opening. Difficult surgical procedures can be performed because robotic arms can perform more complex motions than human arms. An example of a robotic surgical tool is the da Vinci Surgical System, which allows surgeons to remotely perform robotic assisted minimally invasive procedures using a surgical controller. It was first used in Canada at the London Health Sciences Centre here in London, Ontario. The da Vinci Surgical System has been used in patients with prostate cancer to remove the prostate (robotic radical prostatectomy) and is increasingly being used to remove the uterus (hysterectomy) for treatment of cancers of the female reproductive organs. Robotic devices can also allow personalized treatment of complex cancers by delivering radiation therapy with high accuracy.


Developing, fabricating, and using robotics in healthcare requires the contribution of diverse professionals. Mechanical, electrical, and mechatronics engineers need to work together to fabricate the instrument (hardware) and program the electronics (software) for operation. Computer scientists and software engineers may also be needed to develop software that controls the robotic equipment for more complicated surgical procedures. A bachelor’s degree in engineering or computer science may be expected by employers in robotics, but a Master’s or PhD degree in the field is more favourable. Opportunities in this field may include positions in industry to develop and optimize robotics for commercialization or in academic institutions to research emerging robotics technologies. In either case, robotics involves close communication with healthcare professionals, like surgeons and radiation oncologists, to understand the unmet clinical needs and opportunities.


The transition towards robotics for surgeries will improve surgical operation and recovery times and lead to less patient discomfort. With fine-tuning over time, robotics may potentially reduce the rate of accidents in and complications with surgery. Robotics may also make complex surgical procedures available to more people by providing remote solutions, which would allow those living in areas lacking an abundance of surgeons specialized to the procedure they require to receive treatment. Future prospects in robotics may include combining other medical technologies to create more sophisticated systems. One example may be using robotics to precisely probe hard-to-reach tissue for detection of cancer cells. Robotics is a quickly advancing field with many exciting opportunities to improve the treatment of cancer patients.

LET’S TALK: Biomedical engineering!