A team of researchers from across Bristol are to develop a wearable robotic system to improve keyhole surgery.

“Surgeons will be able to use their hands [in non-invasive keyhole surgery] as they would in open incision surgery”


Professor Sanja Dogramadzi at the Bristol Robotics LabThe €4m project, funded by the European Commission under the HORIZON 2020 funding scheme, will be led by Professor Sanja Dogramadzi (pictured right) at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) and UWE Bristol with nine partners including North Bristol NHS Trust, Bristol Urological Institute and the Translational Biomedical Research Centre (TBRC) at the University of Bristol, led by Director, Professor Raimondo Ascione. Professor Chris Melhuish, Director of BRL, is also involved in the project.

The latest robotic systems have the potential to replace laparoscopic tools for keyhole surgery in several clinical areas if developed with integrated better vision, precision and ergonomic systems.

Professor Dogramadzi and the team have identified a need for better tools in robot-assisted minimally invasive surgery to support and enhance the surgeon’s performance in urology, heart and back surgery. The robot systems will be worn by the surgeon and transmit the surgeon’s own movements to the closed surgical interface. This will reduce the challenges in using the technology.

Gripper glove exoskeleton and smart glasses: An introduction to the
‘Wearable’ robotic tools being developed for keyhole surgery at UWE Bristol


The team is developing an exoskeleton to fit over a surgeon’s hands that will control the instruments inside the body via a newly developed surgical ‘gripper’ which mimics the thumb and two fingers of the hand. The instruments in the body will have haptic abilities, allowing the surgeon to ‘feel’ the tissues and organs with their fingers.

Looking into the body with smart glasses

The current prototype has been developed by researchers at Bristol Robotics Laboratory. The researchers are also developing smart glasses using technology from Optinvent, France to give the surgeon a realistic view of what is taking place inside the body.

“Operating surgeons will not have to do any unusual or unnatural movement”


“In our project the exoskeleton will record the position of the fingers and communicate this to the robotic tools inside the body using tele-operated technology,” said Professor Sanja Dogramadzi. “We want to give existing processes a more natural interface – operating surgeons will not have to do any unusual or unnatural movement. They will be able to use their hands as they would in open incision surgery. This also means that training to use the robotic technology for surgery will be quicker.

“The other part of our system will be smart multifunctional glasses, which will relay live images from inside the body. This is an advance compared to current systems, which use a flat TV-like screen to relay images back to the surgeon.”

Development to be helped by surgeons

The way the technology is developed is also different. The researcher will use rapid prototyping to make prototype tools that the surgeons will be able to test and we will incorporate their feedback into the next stage of design. “This means we can adapt tools to the needs of different surgical procedures and this user-centred design process places surgeons at the heart of the development of this system,” said Prof Dogramadzi.

The three-year research project started in January 2017 and builds on previous work by the REACH (Robotics Engineering and Computing in Healthcare) Group at Bristol Robotics Laboratory.

Prof Dogramadzi is presenting at the European Robotics Forum in Edinburgh on 24 March. You can find out more about research carried out at the BRL by checking out the BRL website. You can also follow them on Twitter here: @BristolRobotLab.