Introduction To Haptics For Neurosurgeons

Robots are becoming increasingly relevant to neurosurgeons: extending a neurosurgeon’s physical capabilities, improving navigation within the surgical landscape when combined with advanced imaging, and propelling the movement towards minimally invasive surgery. Most surgical robots, however, isolate surgeons from the full range of human senses during a procedure. This forces surgeons to rely upon vision alone for guidance through the surgical corridor, which limits the system’s capabilities, requires significant operator training, and increases the surgeon’s workload. Incorporating haptics in these systems, i.e. enabling the surgeon to ‘feel’ forces experienced by the robot’s tool tip, could render these limitations obsolete by making the robot feel more like an extension of the surgeon’s own body. While the use of haptics in neurosurgical robots is still mostly the domain of research, neurosurgeons who keep abreast of this emerging field will be more prepared to take advantage of it as it becomes more prevalent in operating theaters. Thus, this paper serves as an introduction to the field of haptics for neurosurgeons. Not only do we outline the current and future benefits of haptics, but we also introduce concepts in the fields of robotic technology and computer control. This knowledge will allow readers to be better aware of limitations in the technology that can affect performance and surgical outcomes, and “knowing the right questions to ask” will be invaluable for surgeons who have purchasing power within their departments.