In modern surgery body lumens increasingly serve as access route to deeply located anatomic regions. Navigation through narrow and mostly fragile and deformable lumens requires considerable skill, dexterity and consequently imposes a large mental load. Visualization is notoriously poor. Due to phenomena such as slack, backlash and compliance the controllability of the instruments is bad. Surgeons undergo steep learning curves and even experienced surgeons often lack confidence about their gestures. Surgical risks including internal bleeding, tissue damage, puncture or rupture are imminent.
ATLAS will produce a generation of European researchers that will develop robotic skills and techniques to automate complex surgical intraluminal therapies. Due to physiological phenomena or the surgical action the anatomy changes considerably, reducing the value of pre-operative data and imaging. Compliant instruments must be employed to navigate through lumens. As they proceed they deform and undergo complex and distributed contacts with the fragile environment. Step changes in intra-operative and distributed sensing, real-time modeling and 3D reconstruction, decision-making, intra-operative planning and autonomous control will be made to deal with the extreme variability that is encountered.
Whereas assistive technology for steering flexible endoscopes, ureteroscopes, colonoscopes, guidewires and vascular catheters has been notoriously disparate and incoherent, ATLAS will develop and train researchers in identifying and exploiting the commonalities amongst these cases. This generalization will lead to a rigorous unified framework and guidelines to deploy assistive techniques tailored to each specific therapy. The ATLAS consortium consists of Europe’s leading institutes in the field of surgery automation and design and control of flexible instruments. It is backed up by a broad set of clinical and industrial partners that are eager to get involved in subsequent exploitation.