Bridging the Gap between
Human Expertise and Surgical Robotics

Imperial College London

We are so focused on how robots are rapidly replacing us in the work force that we often forget that behind those robots there is still a person in control. This creates a new facet of design, the merging of robotics and human centred design.

Imperial College surgical device in testing
Surgical device design for Imperial College in testing

Partnering with Imperial College London, we took on the challenge of discovering how robots will affect our working lives. Initially we expected the user centred design process to become easier. All the problems surgeons face, would be solved with the robot, right? Wrong.

Robotics give surgeons a much greater degree of precision and freedom, but fatigue, poor posture and tiredness are inevitable parts of any surgeon’s life. On top of these problems we faced the dilemma of creating a totally new surgical experience. How could we intuitively translate the skills and techniques of experienced surgeons into the user interface of ICL’s robot?

Testing of the Imperial College dock
Articulated dock prototype for surgery

Smallfry designers spent hours observing surgeons in the operating theatre. It became clear that a small annoyance during an 8hr operation could build up to become substantial pain for the surgeon. Testing prototypes was essential for creating an interface that avoided these annoyances and creating a system that surgeons could instinctively utilise.

Smallfry’ s user centred approach to robotics made the transformation from ‘hands-on’ expert interventions to robot assisted surgery an intuitive one for surgeons.  Smallfry’s engineering team then defined and sourced all the necessary mechanical components, working alongside ICL robotic expertise to build the first production batch. Having been CE marked the product went on to perform very well in clinical trials.  It now serves as a successful example of how University IP can translate into an effective ‘Spin Out’ opportunity.

Components of the universal articulated dock for Imperial College