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Robots may someday operate without doctors

May 8, 2008 at 1:59 PM

DURHAM, N.C., May 8 (UPI) -- U.S. engineers say the world is moving closer to the day when robots will perform surgery with minimal or no guidance from a doctor.

Duke University researchers say their feasibility studies may represent the first concrete steps toward achieving such a space age vision of the future.

For their experiments, the engineers used a rudimentary tabletop robot whose "eyes" used a 3-D ultrasound technology. An artificial intelligence program served as the robot's "brain," taking real-time 3-D information, processing it and giving the robot commands to perform.

"In a number of tasks, the computer was able to direct the robot's actions," said Stephen Smith, director of the university's Ultrasound Transducer Group. "We believe this is the first proof-of-concept for this approach.

"Given that we achieved these early results with a rudimentary robot and a basic artificial intelligence program, the technology will advance to the point where robots -- without the guidance of the doctor -- can someday operate on people."

The research appears online in the journal IEEE Transactions on Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics and Frequency Control. A second study, published in the April issue of the journal Ultrasonic Imaging, demonstrated the robot could successfully perform a simulated needle biopsy.

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