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Mechanical Engineering

Surgical Robotics

Surgical robotics is an emerging discipline that harnesses the power of computer-aided surgery and robotics to assist surgeons to achieve improved outcomes to their patients. The transition from open surgery to minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery in the 80’ and 90’s has allowed patients to benefit from reduced pain, smaller incisions and, in some cases, improved outcomes. However, this transition could not reach its full potential without robot assistance due to dexterity limitations of manual tools and difficulties of associating pre-operative imaging data with the actual surgical scene. The 90’s has seen some small-scale commercial systems for surgical assistance followed by early 2000 when the first commercially successful system for minimally invasive surgery was released. Despite this progress, there are many surgical applications and anatomical regions that remain inaccessible with existing commercial systems. Also, the ways in which robot and computer guidance can be used to improve surgical outcomes are still motivating new research in this area.

Medical and Surgical robotics efforts at our department aim to create new technologies that address the clinical and surgical needs of new surgical paradigms. Often, these new technologies are transformative in a sense that they enable surgeons to carry out procedures that otherwise are impossible to perform without the help of technology. The research efforts in our department include medical robot design and system integration, image-guided surgery and human-robot interaction for supporting new surgical applications. Graduate students in our program are exposed to a unique multi-disciplinary environment in which mechanical engineers collaborate with clinicians and surgeons to create new technologies as part of the Vanderbilt Institute for Surgery and Engineering (VISE). The unique colocation of the Vanderbilt medical center and our engineering school present graduate students with unique opportunities and access for collaboration with clinicians. The training offered in our program is complemented with courses from biomedical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science allowing Ph.D. students to join leadership research positions in both industry and academia.

Xiaoguang Dong

Research Focus: The design, manufacture and control of miniature soft robots, and their applications in minimally invasive medicine, microfluidics and biomechanics. The design, manufacture and control of miniature swarm robots, and their applications in biomedicine and biomechanics. The modeling, design, manufacture and control of intelligent soft materials

Jason Mitchell

Research Focus: Human augmentation through engineering, wearable sensors, exoskeletons, prosthetics; mechanical simulation and design

Nabil Simaan

Research Focus: Robotic systems for surgical assistance, theoretical kinematics of mechanisms, synthesis and optimization of robots and mechanisms, design of flexure mechanisms and flexible robots, parallel robots, actuation redundancy and kinematic redundancy

Robert Webster

Research Focus: Image guidance, robotic surgery, screw theory, mechanics-based modeling, and optimal mechanism design