Swiss doctors and engineers have developed a robot capable of performing cochlear implant operations. Surgeons and researchers from Bern University Hospital and the school’s biomedical engineering unit sought to create a tool that is more than just a surgical aid—one capable of doing things a surgeon cannot.
Using a high-precision optical tracking camera, a resistance sensor that feels bone texture during drilling and a radar-like nerve stimulation probe to to stay on track, the robot drills a tiny hole into the skull behind the ear. This tunnel must pass through a 2.5 mm gap between facial animation and taste nerves to reach the cochlea. Just as modern avionics fly big jets automatically while supplying crucial data to pilots, the sensors make certain the drill is following the planned route.
Real-time readouts indicate the robot’s position. After extensive preclinical tests, the system performed a successful surgery last July. Future applications could include drug delivery to the inner ear.