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OpenSurgery: DIY surgical robots as a critical alternative to costly healthcare


Created by Frank Kolkman at the Design Interactions/RCA, the OpenSurgery project investigates whether building DIY surgical robots, outside the scope of medical regulations, could plausibly provide an accessible alternative to costly professional healthcare services worldwide. The project aims to provoke alternative thinking about medical innovation by challenging the socioeconomic frameworks healthcare currently operates within.

Over the past decade Robots have transformed surgery as they allow even long and complicated procedures to be performed with super human precision and dexterity, reducing the risk of complications and readmissions and speeding up the recovery process in general. However surgery robots are also a good example of market driven healthcare innovations that indirectly increase the cost of healthcare as a whole. While new technologies like robots increase the capabilities of medical practice by expanding the range of treatment options available to patients, they often replace lower cost options with higher cost services. Strict healthcare regulations and medical patents complicate this situation even more as they obstruct the development of more accessible tools and treatment, meaning many people are being excluded from even the most basic of care as they can simply not (or no longer) afford it.

With an increased numbers of uninsured americans sharing all kinds of YouTube videos on how to perform medical hacks on yourself as an alternative to professional care – ranging from making DIY dental fillings to performing minor amateur surgery, OpenSurgery explores what would happen if you were to merge this DIY medical pragmatism with the more capable innovations found in medical industries.

Central to this concept is the ideological development of collective knowledge and expertise fuelled by other than purely economic motives. Enabled by easily accessible software and decentralized making facilities there is the idea that you can make almost anything from home on a near professional level, without being obstructed by conservative politics. Returning power and responsibility to the individual and attesting to a sense of self-determination.

By presenting the hardware for a DIY surgical robot, theoretically capable of assisting in keyhole surgery in a domestic setting, the project aims to provoke alternative thinking about medical innovation by challenging the socioeconomic frameworks healthcare currently operates within. OpenSurgery also questions the potential of the current digital maker movement to adopt more critically engaging societal roles.

OpenSurgery Portable

The model for the DIY surgical robot was created for around $5000 with the help of easily accessible prototyping techniques like 3d printing and laser cutting, and where possible it uses ready-made parts sourced online. The surgical tools are ordered directly from their Chinese suppliers via Alibaba for around $40 dollars and come in sterile packaging. Whereas all the electronics used are borrowed from the 3d printer communities: an Arduino mega takes care of the serial communication over usb, and a Ramps 1.4 shield is used to drive the stepper motors. Together with Marcel Helmer and Riccardo Lardi, Frank has created a processing sketch that allows to control all the motors separately over serial from a simple ControlP5 interface. Eventually the arms should be able to be controlled with a Playstation3 controller.

Project Page | Frank KolkmanMarcel HelmerRiccardo Lardi

OpenSurgery SurgeryPirate2

OpenSurgery SurgeryPirate1

OpenSurgery Processing