TAG: "Robotics"

‘Ender’s Game’ movie features surgical robot built at UC Santa Cruz


Raven II is used to simulate brain surgery on one of the main characters.

The character Bonzo Madrid undergoes robotic surgery in a scene from "Ender's Game." (Image courtesy of Summit Entertainment)

The character Bonzo Madrid undergoes robotic surgery in a scene from "Ender's Game." (Image courtesy of Summit Entertainment)

The Raven II surgical robot developed in Jacob Rosen’s Bionics Lab at UC Santa Cruz makes a cameo appearance in the new movie “Ender’s Game,” which opens today (Nov. 1) in theaters across the country.

“Ender’s Game,” starring Harrison Ford and Asa Butterfield and directed by Gavin Hood, is based on the 1980s science-fiction novel by Orson Scott Card. In a scene around the movie’s 58-minute mark, the Raven II is used to simulate brain surgery on one of the main characters, Bonzo Madrid, played by actor Moisés Arias. The scene, which deviates from the book’s plot, includes most of the movie’s main characters.

Rosen, a professor of computer engineering at UCSC’s Baskin School of Engineering, helped develop the first Raven surgical robot and worked on the next-generation Raven II in collaboration with researchers at the University of Washington. With funding from the National Science Foundation, a set of identical Raven II systems were designed and built at UC Santa Cruz, with electronics designed by the UW team. The robotic surgery systems are now being used at about a dozen research universities across the country.

The Raven II used in the movie was provided and operated by UW researchers. UW graduate student Hawkeye King, who operated the robot from off set during filming, told NBC News that “despite filming from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., it [got] less than 12 seconds on screen.”

The Raven robots are not yet used in clinics for surgery, although that is the eventual goal. Researchers are mainly using them to design and test new hardware and software for telesurgery procedures. The robots are designed to have state-of-the-art motion control and to fit in a standard operating room.

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WALL-E, meet EVA


‘Robo-doc’ navigates on its own, frees doctors to focus on the critically ill.

Dr. Paul Vespa and EVA, UCLA

Dr. Paul Vespa and EVA, UCLA

Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, the world’s first hospital to introduce a remote-presence robot into its neurological intensive-care unit in 2005, now welcomes the RP-VITA, the first robot able to navigate the hospital on its own.

UCLA staff affectionately dubbed the 5’5″, 176-pound robot “EVA,” for executive virtual attending physician. Unlike earlier models that physicians steered via a computer-linked joystick, this version drives on auto-pilot, freeing doctors to devote more time to patient care.

“During a stroke, the loss of a few minutes can mean the difference between preserving or losing brain function,” said Dr. Paul Vespa, director of neurocritical care at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and a professor of neurosurgery and neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “This new advance enables me to concentrate on caring for my patients without being distracted by the need to set up and manage its technological features.”

With a simple push of an iPad button, Vespa can send the robot gliding down the hall to a patient’s room. Equipped with 30 sensors that enable the it to “see” when its route is blocked by a gurney or curious bystander, EVA possesses the intelligence to self-correct and plot a detour to its destination.

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Q&A: Jacob Rosen


UC Santa Cruz researcher is developing robotics to aid patients, doctors.

Jacob Rosen, UC Santa Cruz

“There is really no end to the march of invention,” said Brevet Brigadier General John A.B.C. Smith, a character in Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 short story “The Man That Was Used Up.”

This early science fiction tale of a military man remade of manufactured parts — a 19th-century bionic man — is more than an interesting side note to America’s conflicted relationship with technology. By expressing the fear that we may lose our natural selves, and the idea that the conquest of the frontier transforms us into pieces of military machinery, Poe prefigured the anxieties many Americans feel about technological advances.

If you dream of electric sheep — or androids with imperial ambitions — it’s reassuring to hear UC Santa Cruz robotics researcher Jacob Rosen describing the inspiration for his work. “I had an adviser back in Israel who told me that everything you do should at least help one person,” said Rosen, a professor in the Jack Baskin School of Engineering.

Rosen and his fellow researchers at the UC Santa Cruz Bionics Lab are developing robotic systems that will help far more than a single individual. Their main areas of research are “exoskeletons” that help stroke victims recover the ability to control arm movement, and remote surgical robotics that will allow doctors to operate without actually being on the scene, as well as to work with robotic “partners” to speed up surgeries.

Last spring, the Silicon Valley Business Journal honored Rosen with its “Health Care Hero Award” for his robotics research.

At the University of Washington, Rosen did postdoctoral research with pioneers in the field of remote surgery, including Richard Satava, a science fiction buff and professor who had served in Desert Storm. Satava envisioned a fully automated operating room called a trauma pod. This scenario is now close to becoming reality, thanks to collaboration between engineers like Rosen and surgeons like Satava. In a recent interview, Rosen explained why cross-disciplinary research is so crucial, but why it sometimes can be difficult.

Q: You’ve talked about conducting research collaboratively the way computer engineers develop open source software. Is this a new idea in the field of robotics?

A: It’s new, but it’s also a natural progression, if you think about the field, which is very multidisciplinary. My undergraduate degree is in mechanical engineering, my graduate studies were in biomedical engineering and my postdoc was electrical engineering. I moved across the engineering landscape. This is, in a sense, the story of robotics. There is no one sub-discipline in engineering that can claim it.

Q: You received a grant that will allow a half dozen institutions to experiment with Raven II, the remote surgical hardware and software you’ve developed. Was it hard to get your collaborators to accept this approach?

A: It was hard to get me to accept it. It was very suspicious. My colleague at the University of Washington, Blake Hannaford, came up with the idea: Let’s write a grant, duplicate the system, and give it to our “vicious enemies” (laughs) for free. The only reason I agreed to do it is that he had proved me wrong several times. And he was right.

There’s an honest effort to work together towards the common goal. Everyone can access the smallest screw to change and modify the system. On a more serious note, Raven itself was originally developed because industry wouldn’t allow academics full access to surgical robotics, and we didn’t want to hold the research back by adopting that approach.

Q: Your collaborators are a pretty impressive group.

A: They are impressive. We’re working with Harvard and Johns Hopkins, UCLA, UC Berkeley, University of Nebraska and the University of Washington. I feel that we’re taking the right stance. There are so many aspects of surgical robotics that a single researcher, and even multiple institutions, can’t address. Things get very intense and very complicated when you’re actually using the technology in the field.

Q: What closed the deal for you?

A: Robert Auman, an Israeli mathematician, won a Nobel prize in economics for his work on game theory. Basically, he discovered that collaboration isn’t necessarily effective if it’s a one-shot deal. But if a game is played multiple times, collaboration yields better results. I began to feel that collaboration is at the foundation of our existence. We used to collaborate to survive; now we have the luxury to choose whether we want to collaborate. But the benefits can be significant, across the board. For example, if two competing companies collaborate, they actually increase their revenue.

Q: You’d already collaborated with surgeons.

A: I found the confluence of engineering and medicine interesting. Most people were shying away from it because it’s a very elaborate and time-consuming process. These are two cultures and we don’t even speak the same language. They try to intimidate us with anatomical terms in Latin and you try to intimidate them with equations.

Q: How do you get everyone to agree?

A: It takes time. Once they learn our language and they learn about ours, things get better. A lot of it is setting expectations. Surgeons in particular are very hands-on. They want their tool to be in their hands tomorrow. Yesterday, actually. But as one of my colleagues put it, medicine is a problem-rich environment, and engineering is a solution-rich discipline.

Q: What do you see in the future for remote surgery?

A: I’m interested in collaborative surgery: two surgeons, two sets of arms. They could be next to each other, or in remote places, but either way, surgery would be accelerated. One of them could be a machine, so it would be a human collaborating with an algorithm. The U.S. military has a vision that 15 to 20 years from now, the entire military will be robotic. This includes medical services. So there will be movement in that direction.

Q: And after surgery, or stroke, comes rehabilitation. That’s where the exoskeleton comes in. What is it, exactly?

A: An exoskeleton is a device that you wear, like clothes. It’s supposed to interact with you physically, co-exist with you. It can amplify your strength, even if you’re healthy. For example, it can help you carry heavier loads. We sometimes call it a haptic device. Haptics in Greek is a sense of touch.

Q: How does it work?

A: I can put you in a virtual reality, and map the motion you make into an avatar. With most virtual reality set-ups, if you reach toward a ball, you can see the hand reaching the ball, and it might even penetrate the ball, but you don’t feel anything. Our exoskeleton stops once your reach the ball. You would not penetrate it, and you would feel it. You can move around in a virtual physical world and feel the force feedback.

Q: How does that help the disabled?

A: It’s neurological. The whole idea of treating these people is based on the brain’s plasticity. We have more neurons than we actually need, and if one part of the brain is damaged, other parts can take over and recover some of the motor control. But it takes time.

Insurance companies expect stroke victims to relearn in three months what took them 20 years to learn in the first place. It’s almost impossible. But you can amplify the learning. Now the learning is limited by how much time stroke victims have with a physical therapist, but people can tolerate far more therapy. That’s where the exoskeleton comes in.

Q: Will it replace physical therapists?

A: No. But it will allow therapists to treat more patients at the same time and offer patients the opportunity to do more therapy. We’re not removing people from the scene. What we’re planning to do is make it patient-centered, rather than therapist-centered.

Q: That sounds great. But the exoskeleton looks large and heavy. How do stroke victims use it?

A: Gravity is a very strong force on our body. About 95 percent of the energy we use goes to keeping our body in a certain posture, and only 5 percent to move in a certain direction. Some of these patients lose a lot of muscle control. This exoskeleton’s actuators, electrical motors, compensate for the gravitational load, and also for the patient’s weight. They feel as if they are in space. So they can concentrate on the motion itself.

Q: Is this similar to the devices we’ve seen on TV: those miraculous-appearing devices that allow paraplegics to walk?

A: That approach consists of connecting electrodes directly to the brain. There is a fundamental problem with it. The brain doesn’t like that you’re inserting electrodes in it, so it develops tissue that will isolate it from the electrodes. After three months, the brain will fully encapsulate the electrodes. Unless there’s a breakthrough in biocompatibility, the technology is viable but very short-lived.

With a stroke, the recovery continues indefinitely. You take someone in, you treat them for a while, you build the neurological connections, and you set them free. We looked at people 10 years past a stroke and the brain is still demonstrating the ability to recover. We think of our system as a “gym for the brain.” It’s a physical activity that’s changing neurological set-ups.

Q: Is this available yet?

A: We’re trying to make it commercially available through a company I founded called Exosense.

Q: You’ve only been at Santa Cruz for a few years, yet the lab seems to be moving quickly, both in the rehabilitation devices and the remote surgical effort.

A: Typically you find robotics distributed among many departments in engineering. Richard Hughey, who’s now the dean of undergraduate studies, decided to invest in robotics, and Santa Cruz offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in robotics. The university is unusual in offering that degree for undergraduates.

Q: I’m getting the feeling that you’re intense about your work.

A: That’s possible. I used to play violin, and row competitively.

Q: How was the competitive rowing in Israel?

A: We were actually pretty good. We competed internationally, in three world championships. But it was 25 years ago. I’m still rowing, only now it’s in a reservoir a few miles from here.

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‘Open-source’ robotic surgery platform going to top labs


Raven II system developed at UC Santa Cruz and University of Washington.

Team members posed with components of the Raven II surgical robotic systems developed in the Bionics Lab at the UC Santa Cruz Baskin School of Engineering.

Robotics experts at UC Santa Cruz and the University of Washington (UW) have completed a set of seven advanced robotic surgery systems for use by major medical research laboratories throughout the United States. After a round of final tests, five of the systems will be shipped to medical robotics researchers at Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Nebraska, UC Berkeley and UCLA, while the other two systems will remain at UC Santa Cruz and UW.

“We decided to follow an open-source model, because if all of these labs have a common research platform for doing robotic surgery, the whole field will be able to advance more quickly,” said Jacob Rosen, associate professor of computer engineering in the Baskin School of Engineering at UCSC and principal investigator on the project.

Rosen and Blake Hannaford, director of the UW Biorobotics Laboratory, lead the research groups that developed the Raven II robotic surgery system and its predecessor, Raven I. A grant from the National Science Foundation funded their work to create seven identical Raven II systems. Hannaford said the systems will be shipped out from UW by the end of January. After they are delivered and installed, all seven systems will be networked together over the Internet for collaborative experiments.

Robotic surgery has the potential to enable new surgical procedures that are less invasive than existing techniques. For some procedures, such as prostate surgery, the use of surgical robots is already standard practice. In addition, telesurgery, in which the surgeon operates a robotic system from a remote location, offers the potential to provide better access to expert care in remote areas and the developing world. Having a network of laboratories working on a common platform will make it easier for researchers to share software, replicate experiments, and collaborate in other ways.

Even though it meant giving competing laboratories the tools that had taken them years to develop, Rosen and Hannaford decided to share the Raven II because it seemed like the best way to move the field forward. “These are the leading labs in the nation in the field of surgical robotics, and with everyone working on the same platform we can more easily share new developments and innovations,” Hannaford said.

According to Rosen, most research on surgical robotics in the United States has focused on developing new software for various commercially available robotic systems. “Academic researchers have had limited access to these proprietary systems. We are changing that by providing high-quality hardware developed within academia. Each lab will start with an identical, fully-operational system, but they can change the hardware and software and share new developments and algorithms, while retaining intellectual property rights for their own innovations,” Rosen said.

The Raven II includes a surgical robot with two robotic arms, a camera for viewing the operational field, and a surgeon-interface system for remote operation of the robot. The system is powerful and precise enough to support research on advanced robotic surgery techniques, including online telesurgery.

In addition to Rosen and Hannaford, UCSC postdoctoral researchers Daniel Glozman and  Ji Ma, along with a group of dedicated undergraduate students working in Rosen’s Bionics Lab, played a key role in developing the Raven II. Rosen and Glozman have also developed a Raven IV surgical robotics system, which includes four robotic arms and two cameras. The system enables collaboration between two surgeons working from separate locations and connected over the Internet.

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Can robots take over rehab?


At UC Irvine’s iMove center, machines help people regain use of damaged limbs.

UC Irvine professor David Reinkensmeyer (right) and Robert Sanchez demonstrate their Armeo robot (click image for larger view)

Visiting the iMove center at UC Irvine’s Gross Hall is like being on the set of a sci-fi movie. Here, the merging of machines and humans — the premise of such futuristic films as “Alien” and “The Terminator” — has become a reality.

Inside the lab, at Sue & Bill Gross Hall: A CIRM Institute, patients whose limbs have been impaired by a stroke or spinal cord injury don robotic arms, gloves with special sensors and other high-tech devices designed to help get them moving again.

For more than 20 years, iMove center director David Reinkensmeyer has sought to restore human mobility by developing new technologies for motion training, exercise and rehabilitation.

“I started in this field because I was interested in robotics and how the brain works. And I wanted to help people. You put those three things together, and you get this,” he says, gesturing to the assorted contraptions. “One of my close friends in graduate school had cerebral palsy, and I saw what it was like to live with a disability.”

A professor of mechanical & aerospace engineering, anatomy & neurobiology and biomedical engineering, Reinkensmeyer is like Q in the James Bond movies without the stuffy British attitude. Instead of weapons, though, he and his collaborators create exoskeletons that attach to patients’ limbs, facilitate their movement and relay progress to a computer.

“David is a leader in biomechatronics robotic systems that interact with something alive. But he’s so self-effacing that you’d never know it,” says Robert Sanchez, Ph.D. ’05, who worked with Reinkensmeyer while pursuing his doctorate in mechanical & aerospace engineering and now designs surgical eye equipment for Alcon Research Ltd. in Irvine.

On a fall afternoon, Reinkensmeyer and Sanchez demonstrate one of their favorite inventions: ArmeoSpring, a robotic arm that assists patients unable to perform rehab exercises on their own.

“When someone suffers a stroke, the nerve pathways to the brain that operate a limb are no longer viable. To repair them, patients need to practice moving the limb, but often they’re too weak. Gravity holds them back,” Sanchez says. “Armeo utilizes springs to counteract the weight, so they can move their arm and restore those neural connections.”

Adds Reinkensmeyer: “If they didn’t have the device, their arm would just drop. It’s exciting to see patients move in ways they haven’t since their illness or injury.”

Working out with Armeo feels more like playing a computer game. The patient’s movements are tracked on software that guides them through simple challenges, such as loading virtual apples into a cart.

“It’s like a three-dimensional mouse,” Reinkensmeyer says of the robotic arm. “The tasks mimic activities in daily life.”

People using Armeo have shown greater improvement than those who underwent conventional therapy. The device is now sold by Hocoma and employed in more than 200 clinics worldwide.

“Patients like training with Armeo more than table top exercises because it’s a game against themselves. So the hope is that they’ll spend more time training,” Sanchez says.

Reinkensmeyer’s lab, in collaboration with UCI mechanical & aerospace engineering professor James Bobrow, has developed another exoskeleton called PAM/POGO (Pelvic Assist Manipulator/Pneumatically Operated Gait Orthosis) that gives patients full range of motion in their legs and pelvis while training on a treadmill. “It helps you stand and start moving,” Reinkensmeyer says.

Sophisticated software enables the robot to adapt to people’s different strides, instead of leading them astray “like the ‘wrong trousers’ in that Wallace & Gromit movie,” he says.

PAM/POGO even caught the attention of rapper Dr. Dre, who borrowed it for the “I Need a Doctor” (5:54) video, in which his character undergoes rehabilitation after a car accident.

“At first I wasn’t sure if we should do the video, ” Reinkensmeyer says. “I worried that it wouldn’t treat people with disabilities with respect. But — although some of the language is objectionable — the video does portray the hope and hard work of rehabilitation.

“It’s had more than 73 million hits on YouTube. Young people see robotic rehabilitation and think, ‘This is really cool.’ It might inspire them to want to help others with technology.”

Another cool invention, the Music Glove, fosters finger dexterity. Doctoral student Nizan Friedman, electrical engineering assistant professor Mark Bachman and Reinkensmeyer attached sensors to ordinary leather sports gloves, then hooked them up to a computer. Patients play songs on Guitar Hero by tapping their fingers together.

“It’s a low-cost way to do a lot of hand exercises,” Reinkensmeyer says. “If we asked people to move their fingers 1,000 times like that without playing the game, they’d say, ‘No way.’”

Because these devices can precisely gauge a patient’s progress in rehab, they’re valuable tools for stem cell researchers, which is why iMove is located in the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center.

“We hope to give stem cell scientists the gadgets to better measure if stem cell therapy is working and to enhance regeneration through intense exercise,” Reinkensmeyer says.

In 2010, Reinkensmeyer received a $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how effective robots are in restoring motor skills.

“Right now, we’re limited by making these devices strong yet lightweight enough for people to wear them but it’s becoming increasingly possible,” he says.

Reinkensmeyer hopes that robotic devices, coupled with the kind of stem cell therapies being developed at UCI, will someday help patients live better, more active lives.

“To see a person who’s been injured recover completely may seem like science fiction, but that’s what we all dream about,” he says.

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