Kinect adapted for robotic surgery

I am all for hacking the Kinect to be used for things that it was never intended to be used for. Things like controlling my PC games or controlling a robot are one thing. Using the Kinect to control robotic surgery tools by doctors is something else entirely and makes me more than a little nervous.

Students at the University of Washington have done just that. They students took a Kinect and hacked it to operate robotic surgery tools. The upside to using the Kinect according to the developers is that it can give surgeons using robotic tools a sense of touch, which is lacking right now. Robotic systems right now will stop the camera or tools if the surgeon hits something solid inside the body, but the joystick used to control the tools keeps moving.

With the code, the students wrote for Kinect, the spatial feedback could be sent back to the user to control force feedback. Using the system the students can place electronic restrictions on where the surgical tools can go to protect vital organs or make the tools follow along bone with the joystick controller having the same movement limits as the tools.

"We could define basically a force field around, say, a liver," said Howard Chizeck, UW professor of electrical engineering. "If the surgeon got too close, he would run into that force field and it would protect the object he didn't want to cut."