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Frugal Design and Surgical Robotics

  • Author(s): McKinley, Stephen Alan
  • Advisor(s): Goldberg, Ken
  • et al.

A new era of robotic surgery is poised to begin when critical patents held by Intuitive Surgical (IS) expire in 2016. IS market dominance for decades has led to an effective monopoly that will be challenged by several commercial enterprises working on next generation general robotic surgery systems. Robotic surgery has the potential to alleviate the skill-gap between experienced and inexperienced surgeons through the automation of sub-tasks within surgical


The primary objective of this dissertation is to explore the process of design itself through the presentation of these devices. The common intention throughout the presented case studies is Frugal Design.

Secondarily, this dissertation explores limitations of current surgical automation and addresses the design considerations of hardware modifcations to the daVinci Research Kit which enable automation.

Part I (Chapter 1) of this dissertation describes the considerations that make a design frugal and the methodology used by the author across three conceptual examples including:

- an inexpensive physical environment for machine learning,

- a device for cloud-enabled irrigation optimization, and

- an interchangeable tool interface for surgical robotics.

Part II of this dissertation presents frugal design case studies for system components that enable an automated silicone-phantom tumorectomy.

Chapter 2 provides an overview of existing technology and related work in the field of surgical automation.

Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6 describe designs for devices that enable automation of the four subtasks

involved in a tumorectomey: Palpation, Incision, Debridement, and Closure. Specifically, these devices include:

- an inexpensive palpation probe to locate tumors (Chapter 3),

- an interchangeable tool interface for surgical robotics (Chapter 5),

- a fluid injector for surgical robotics (Chapter 4), and

- a passive needle orientation texture (Chapter 6).

Part III of this dissertation describes the design theory behind the author's work presented in Part 1 (examples) and Part 2 (case studies). In Chapter 7, a short history of design theory in the Bauhaus school of (1919-1933) is presented through examples taken from the author's work. Chapter 8 serves as a link to future efforts by the author by bridging the presented frugal design work into the global development effort of frugal innovation.

The design theory material in Part 3 is presented for three reasons:

First: Conceptual design depends on the practitioner's ability to abstract design criteria into diverse functional solutions. The author's practice in this area involves the artistic study of functionalist abstraction as unconstrained exploration of the design space. That practice is presented to elucidate the creative origins of the solutions presented herein, and to provoke creative problem solving in others.

Second: A socially-progressive responsibility, inherent in the Bauhaus ideology, is modernized in Chapter 8 as Frugal Design, which borrows its motivation from a new trend in

development for emerging markets known as Frugal Innovation.

Third: A parallel is drawn to the climate of artificially intelligent automation in present-day Bay Area research in Berkeley, Stanford, and Silicon Valley to the Bauhaus, which was founded as a reaction to increasing automation during the first machine age in Germany.

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