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Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute Research Guide

Carnegie Mellon University, Robotics Institute, Research Guide

Medical Robotics

In the area of Medical Robotics, current projects at RI span basic and applied research in multiple areas, including:

Due to overlap with the QoLT initiative, such areas as (i) rehabilitative and prosthetic devices, (ii) assisted living, (iii) preventive healthcare equipment, and (iv) continuous healthcare process improvement could also be considered a part of medical robotic activities, but are left to the QoLT-section to be addressed there.

Beginning over 15 years ago, the RI established itself as a world leader in computer-assisted surgery, focusing on development of more accurate and less invasive orthopaedic procedures (DiGioia, Jaramaz, Kanade). The first image-guided orthopedic surgery system in the US – HipNav – was developed within RI and has been used clinically (DiGioia, Jaramaz). Robotic tools for preparation of bone surfaces have also been developed (Choset, Kanade, Jaramaz). More recent work in computer-assisted surgery has focused on additional interventions, with projects in navigation and visualization for cardiac ablation (Kanade), image-guided prenatal cardiac interventions (Jaramaz, Kanade), epicardial procedures (Riviere), cardiac surgery (Choset, Jaramaz), ultrasound-guided percutaneous interventions and biopsies (Stetten), and eye surgery (Riviere, Stetten). In addition, biomedical image analysis techniques are being applied to provide decision-support for surgical planning and follow-up (Jaramaz).

In recent years, the medical robotics research program at RI has also evolved from its initial focus on computer-assisted surgery to encompass a broader health care agenda.

Several faculty are working on technologies aimed at detection and prevention of medical problems, including biomedical image analysis techniques for disease classification and prediction (Kanade, Stetten, Huber), and implantable medical microsystems aimed at monitoring of vital signs (Fedder, Weiss). The RI was a founding member in the consortium receiving funding from the National Library of Medicine to develop an open-source software library for medical image analysis, the Insight Toolkit (ITK), and has a graduate course specifically geared to teaching this library (Stetten, Galeotti). A number of faculty are pursuing rehabilitation and assistive technologies aimed generally at improving quality of life for persons with disabilities and the aging population, (Atkeson, Kanade, Wactlar; see section on QoLT). Work in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine was started by Weiss in 1997 using rapid prototyping methodologies to manufacture synthetic tissue constructs, and is now a campus-wide strategic thrust.

Several of our faculty are developing new, better surgical devices and techniques. Since 2005, in collaboration with Marco Zenati (formerly UPMC, now Harvard), Choset has developed snake robot technology for minimally invasive cardiac surgery which has served as the basis for a spinoff called Cardiorobotics which has received $30 million in investment and employs 21 people. In February 2010, Choset's robot was used in its first operation in a human. Other innovative robotic devices that have recently resulted from work at RI include the “Sonic FlashlightTM” (Stetten), which merges real-time ultrasound images with direct human vision to see through skin and underlying tissue as if it were translucent; “Micron” (Riviere), a fully handheld microsurgical instrument that actively compensates for the surgeon's hand tremor and served recently as the basic robotic platform for a NIH Bioengineering Research Partnership grant with Johns Hopkins University; “Precision Freehand Sculptor” (Kanade, DiGioia, Jaramaz), a handheld robotic bone shaping device, presently being commercialized by Blue Belt Technologies; and “HeartLander” (Riviere), a miniature epicardial crawling robot for minimally invasive beating-heart procedures, presently being commercialized by HeartLander Surgical.

One key strength of medical robotics research in the RI has been its close association with medical practitioners, which has focused attention on high leverage problems and created a clinical pull instead of a technology push. Strong connections with University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) have been established in recent years. For example, Stetten has collaborations with Nikhil Amesur in Radiology and Joel Schuman in Ophthalmology, and Riviere is collaborating with UPMC cardiologist David Schwartzman, UPMC eye surgeon Louis Lobes, and UPMC neurosurgeons Johnathan Engh and Douglas Kondziolka, as well as William Wagner of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Numerous collaborations exist also with Allegheny General Hospital and Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. For example, Huber collaborates with Raphael Hirsch, Chief of the Division of Rheumatology at Children's, and Choset is now working with Shyam Thakkar at Allegheny General to develop technologies for natural orifice transluminal endoscopic surgery (NOTES).

The RI medical robotics community has strong ties both to the CMU Biomedical Engineering (BME) Department and the Bioengineering (BioE) Department at the University of Pittsburgh. For example, collaborations between Jessica Hodgins in Robotics and Mark Redfern in BioE are applying virtual reality techniques to the study of diseases that affect balance. The MD/PhD program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), co-directed by Stetten, has provided a number of graduate students to Robotics, either directly or through the BME department. These outstanding students pursue their PhD's after two years in medical school, before returning to finish medical school. UPMC also offers RI students the chance to participate in a "shadow" program in which they sit besides practicing radiologists to witness the human practice of image analysis. CMU students also benefit from the BME class “Surgery for Engineers,” taught by James Burgess of Allegheny General.

In addition, medical robotics research at RI emphasizes collaborations with several other departments at CMU, including Biological Sciences, Mechanical Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Materials Sciences, and HCII. RI faculty are also affiliated with several external academic and clinical research organizations in medical robotics research, including the Engineering Research Center for Computer Integrated Surgical Systems and Technology at Johns Hopkins University (Riviere), the University of Pittsburgh Department of BioEngineering (Stetten), University of Pittsburgh Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology (Riviere), University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (Kanade, Weiss, Stetten, Fedder), Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh (Kanade, Huber) and Allegheny General Hospital (Weiss).

Continue Reading: MEMS/MicroRobotics


  1. Howie

  2. Gary

  3. Branislav

  4. Takeo

  5. Cameron

  6. George

  7. Lee

Project Images

  • Micron Handheld

  • Neurosurgical Needle Steering

  • Sonic Flashlight

  • Cell Tracking

  • Bone-stress Monitor