IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) - If you haven't seen the new Star Wars film, the droid BB-8 stole the show. Its gadgets and affable personality made for a really cool robot, even if it’s science fiction.
UI Senior Zach Mennen talks about the robot to his right.
But not all droids are found on the silver screen. Three University of Iowa computer engineering students created a cutting-edge robot, made for when patients are under the knife.
The students built the bot for a senior project. The idea came from a UI doctor who said for years brain surgeons have faced a major annoyance in the O.R.
"They use these big microscopes," said UI Senior Zach Mennen, one of the robots creators. "They have these head pieces when they're looking at the brain, they have to strain their neck and look through it."
Sometimes docs have to do that for up to ten hours. Plus, surgeons have to try to not look away, for fear when they look back, what they were viewing will have changed.
"This was definitely something that was needed," said Alex Young, a creator and recent graduate. "They're using very, very old microscopes."
The robot is designed to replace all that. It's got cameras that can track specific spots in the brain, like a tumor.
The images are sent into a headset, which the surgeon can wear. That means the doctor can move his or her head and not worry about losing what's being viewed.
CT scans or MRI images can be placed on top of the camera feed for added detail.
Another feature, a hands free controller which allows the doc to adjust the bot without touching it.
"They don't have to take their gloves off to move the robot around," Young said. "It's all in the computer."
The guys put it together and wrote the computer code in a matter of months. Now that it's complete, the prototype is solid enough the UI reports patents have been filed.
"I've never heard of anything like this being done before," Mennen said. "Hopefully, it helps people in the future."