For some time now, we’ve seen robotic surgical devices that can be remotely guided within the human body. And while they do make surgery more precise and less invasive, they still have to be continuously operated by a surgeon. Recently, however, a robotic catheter successfully navigated beating pig hearts on its own.
The device was developed by a team at the Harvard-affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital, led by chief of Pediatric Cardiac Bioengineering, Dr. Pierre Dupont. At the front end of the long, slender tool is an optical touch sensor – this incorporates an LED spotlight and an endoscopic camera.
As an external motor pushed the catheter forward along the inner wall of the heart’s left ventricle, images from its camera were processed by an artificial intelligence-based control system. That system was in turn able to determine if the sensor was in contact with blood, the heart wall, or a heart valve. Additionally, by visually assessing how much pressure the sensor was exerting on the surrounding tissue, the system was able to keep it from pressing hard enough to cause damage.