Sony Develops Proprietary Microsurgery Assistance Robot

It's designed to work on extremely small tissues, such as veins and nerves.

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Sony

Sony Group Corporation (Sony) announced the development of a microsurgery assistance robot capable of automatic surgical instrument exchange and precision control. The prototype was unveiled at the Sony booth during the 2024 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA2024), which opened in Yokohama on May 13.

Factors such as a shrinking workforce caused by an aging society have resulted in a serious shortage of medical practitioners, who face an increased workload in the medical field. Against this backdrop, in the field of surgery where high skill levels are required, the use of surgical robots that assist with precision operations is expected to reduce surgeon workloads and help promote the spread of advanced medical services.

The prototype was developed by Sony's R&D team for technology development to assist in microsurgical procedures for use in conjunction with a microscope, etc., to work on extremely small tissues, such as veins and nerves. The movements of the surgeons' hands and fingers captured with a highly sensitive control device are replicated on a small surgical instrument that operates smoothly, akin to the movement of the human wrist. Practical challenges with conventional surgical assistant robots include interruptions and delays in surgery due to manually exchanging surgical instruments, but the R&D team has developed a system that allows for the automatic exchange of these parts through miniaturizing them. In so doing, the R&D team has been seeking the possibility to allow the robot to assist in a wide variety of surgical procedures, enabling more medical practitioners to perform microsurgeries that require extremely delicate operations in the future.


In February 2024, an experiment was conducted by Aichi Medical University, where surgeons and other medical practitioners that do not specialize in microsurgical procedures used the prototype and successfully created an anastomosis in animal blood vessels (diameter of approximately 0.6 mm). This is the world's first case of microvascular anastomosis achieved using a surgical assistance robot with an automatic instrument exchange function.

Going forward, Sony plans to work with university medical departments and medical institutions to further develop and verify the effectiveness of robotic surgical assistance technology. Continuing to move forward with R&D, the company aims to help resolve issues in the medical domain and contribute to the advancement of medicine by providing robotic technologies.

1. Automatic instrument exchange achieved through miniaturization of surgical instruments

Developing miniaturized, proprietary surgical instruments allows multiple instruments to be stored in a compact manner near the robot arm. Both the left and right arms can then use small movements to exchange the instruments in a short period of time without human intervention.

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2. Pairing a highly sensitive control device with compact, multi-jointed surgical instruments delivers stable, high-precision control

To enable the stable and high-precision control required in microsurgical procedures, the team developed a compact, lightweight, highly sensitive control device to reflect the delicate movements of human fingertips. Also, the tip of the surgical instrument is equipped with multiple joints, allowing it to move smoothly like the human wrist. Through these features, the prototype aims to enable nimble operation and smooth movement that almost feels like the robot intervention doesn't exist.

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3. High-definition 4K imaging technology to assist with precision operations

The prototype is equipped with 1.3-type 4K OLED Microdisplays developed by Sony Semiconductor Solutions Corporation, allowing operators to view high-definition images of the affected area and the movement of surgical instruments. The prototype aims to provides visual support for microsurgical procedures through faithful reproduction of color, texture and depth.

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