Surgery robots appeal to the imagination

In the Brabant Robot Challenge 2018, 6 multidisciplinary student teams worked on the theme of robotics in health care. For 12 weeks, they discussed a relevant issue in real life. The team with the best final presentation wins €1000.

After a successful pilot in 2017, a second edition was inevitable. No less than 33 students from 4 different educational institutions in Brabant signed up for the competition, which is organized by TU Eindhoven, Avans and Fontys Universities of Applied Sciences, and Tilburg University.

Avans lecturer Tom Bruijns, associated with the Humans and Technology program (Mens en Techniek), supervises one of the student teams. It's not surprising that he signed up as a supervisor. “Robotization is perfectly in line with this program. We are concerned with the question of how technology can improve the quality of care.” The team he supervises consists of 6 students: Maud Calame and Reinjet Oostdijk from Tilburg University and Avans students Remco Verweij, Aron Wevers, Johan Verkaik, and Tim Thelissen.

On the rise
"Robots really appeal to the imagination," says Bruijns. According to him, robots have been a widespread phenomenon for years, for example in the automotive industry. “The advantage of a robot is: you show it how to do something once, and it can repeat that endlessly and with great precision." In the meantime, robotization is also on the rise in the health care sector. Bruijns: “There is an enormous variety here. On the one hand, there are small care robots such as Zora and Paro, which are used, for example, to keep the elderly active in residential care centers or for children with autism. On the other hand, there are so-called surgery robots. They assist surgeons in their work.”

Bruijns: “There is an enormous variety here. On the one hand, there are small care robots such as Zora and Paro, which are used, for example, to keep the elderly active in residential care centers or for children with autism. On the other hand, there are so-called surgery robots. They assist surgeons in their work.” surgery robots. Zij assisteren chirurgen in hun werk.”

Controversial topic
Surgery robots are central to the issue that the Bruijns’ team is dealing with. The assignment comes from the Neurosurgery Brabant group (Coöperatie Neurochirurgie Brabant (CNB)) and the Elisabeth-TweeSteden Hospital (ETZ) in Tilburg. In short, the assignment is: give substantiated advice on the question of whether clients should invest in robotic surgery. And if so, in which robot?

A controversial subject, according to CNB and ETZ. Although robots can be used in neurosurgery, the costs are high and the benefits for health care are still unclear. It is up to the students to find out what the pros and cons are. Do the costs of such a robot outweigh the time saved? After all, such a robot quickly costs half a million euros, according to Mechatronics student Johan Verkaik. "And there are also annual running costs."

Match made in heaven
The assignment of CNB and ETZ was dot on for computer student Tim Thelissen. “I am very interested in the medical world because a large part of my family is working in the care sector. Moreover, in my previous studies, Artificial Intelligence, I came into contact with cognitive neuropsychology and the anatomy of the brain. The fact that I am now able to combine my interest in robotics and automation with my fascination for the brain is, of course, a match made in heaven.” match made in heaven.”

According to Tim, the team is well on its way to sound advice. “The assignment requires quite detailed knowledge of the type of operations the neurosurgeons want to use a robot for. It was, for us as a group, a challenge to find out exactly where to start. Moreover, the matters that we as students found interesting to research were not always the most important subjects for the surgeons. But by now, we have found our way." Team member Johan finds the literature research a particular challenge. "We're researching robots that haven't been around for very long yet. So it is difficult to search for articles and publications."

The multidisciplinary aspect is very appealing to both students. Johan learns a lot from the university team members, especially when it comes to writing a report. Tim is also happy with the different backgrounds of his team. “Because everyone comes from a different field, we all look at the problems we encounter in a different way.”

Process operator
The role of lecturer Bruijns in the group is simple: he monitors the process and keeps an eye on progress. Because the advice has to be completed by June 6. That is when all groups are allowed to present the performance of their assignment to the clients during the trade fair Vision, Robotics & Motion in Veldhoven.

Until then, the lecturer enjoys all the enthusiastic participants. “The students do this in addition to their study program without getting any credits for it. Yet everyone is fanatical.” Luckily, the students get a lot in return. In addition to lectures by leading lecturers in the field of robotics, the teams have a chance to win €1000. Whether his team is going to win? “Of course,” he laughs.