Despite its expected clinical benefits, current teleoperated surgical robots do not provide the surgeon with haptic feedback largely because grounded forces can destabilize the system’s closed-loop controller.
This article presents an alternative approach that enables the surgeon to feel fingertip contact deformations and vibrations while guaranteeing the teleoperator’s stability.
We implemented our cutaneous feedback solution on an Intuitive Surgical da Vinci Standard robot by mounting a SynTouch BioTac tactile sensor to the distal end of a surgical instrument and a custom cutaneous display to the corresponding master controller. As the user probes the remote environment, the contact deformations, DC pressure, and AC pressure (vibrations) sensed by the BioTac are directly mapped to input commands for the cutaneous device’s motors using a model-free algorithm based on look-up tables. The cutaneous display continually moves, tilts, and vibrates a flat plate at the operator’s fingertip to optimally reproduce the tactile sensations experienced by the BioTac.
We tested the proposed approach by having eighteen subjects use the augmented da Vinci robot to palpate a heart model with no haptic feedback, only deformation feedback, and deformation plus vibration feedback. Fingertip deformation feedback significantly improved palpation performance by reducing the task completion time, the pressure exerted on the heart model, and the subject’s absolute error in detecting the orientation of the embedded plastic stick. Vibration feedback significantly improved palpation performance only for the seven subjects who dragged the BioTac across the model, rather than pressing straight into it.