ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 1 March 2000




Rudall, B.H. (2000), "Biocybernetics", Kybernetes, Vol. 29 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited


Keywords: Automation, Cybernetics, Research, Technological developments

Abstracts:Reports and surveys are given of selected current research and development in systems and cybernetics. They include: Interdisciplinary research, Innovations, Formal methods for safety-critical systems, Biocybernetics, Internet access for all, Management cybernetics, Cybernetics and automation, Shrinking the robot.


Voice-activated surgery

At the end of last year, Europe's first voice-activated surgery took place at the UK's North Hampshire Hospital. The operation was performed by a consultant orthopaedic surgeon, Neil Thomas, to repair the knee of an injured amateur football player. The operation was performed by the surgeon addressing a computerised robot called Hermes, which controlled the camera throughout the key-hole surgery.

Hermes is able to recognise over 100 verbal commands and also has the ability to use surgical instruments such as drills, cutters, and suction equipment. Developed by the US Stryker Corporation, the robot makes a "voice card" for each surgeon that will operate it. It responds to such commands as "Hermes, connect the camera" by instantly producing a detailed image of, in this case, the inside of the patient's knee. It confirms this has been done by replying "Camera connected".

The system is already well used in the USA, but has yet to be used as extensively in Europe. It is reported that more than 1,000 operations have been assisted by Hermes in the USA in 1999, and it has reduced operating times by an average of 15 per cent. It is claimed that it is more precise than the human hand and consequently may also speed patients' recovery.

The Stryker Corporation anticipates that Hermes will be controlled by the voice of a doctor in an entirely different hospital or country. It also points out that it is the first voice-activated program to pass safety regulations set by the Medical Devices Agency in the UK, because, it says, ordinary commercial systems are too prone to mishear commands. There are already, we are told, 300 "endosuites" in the USA, in which the surgeon can use his voice to control everything "from the position of the operating table to his choice of music".

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