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Learning by Observation for Surgical Subtasks: Multilateral Cutting of 3D Viscoelastic and 2D Orthotropic Tissue Phantoms

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Automating repetitive surgical subtasks such as suturing, cutting and debridement can reduce surgeon fatigue and procedure times and facilitate supervised tele-surgery. Programming is difficult because human tissue is deformable and highly specular. Using the da Vinci Research Kit (DVRK) robotic surgical assistant, we explore a 'Learning By Observation' (LBO) approach where we identify, segment, and parameterize motion sequences and sensor conditions to build a finite state machine (FSM) for each subtask. The robot then executes the FSM repeatedly to tune parameters and if necessary update the FSM structure. We evaluate the approach on two surgical subtasks: debridement of 3D Viscoelastic Tissue Phantoms (3d-DVTP), in which small target fragments are removed from a 3D viscoelastic tissue phantom; and Pattern Cutting of 2D Orthotropic Tissue Phantoms (2d-PCOTP), a step in the standard Fundamentals of Laparoscopic Surgery training suite, in which a specified circular area must be cut from a sheet of orthotropic tissue phantom. We describe the approach and physical experiments with repeatability of 96% for 50 trials of the 3d-DVTP subtask and 70% for 20 trials of the 2d-PCOTP subtask. A video is available at:

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