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Sci-Fi Surgery: Medical Robots

10 September 2009

Are we on the edge of a robot revolution in medicine?

Sci-Fi Surgery: Medical Robots is the theme for the latest exhibition at the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons. The exhibition, which runs from 8 September to 23 December 2009, explores the fascinating world of medical robotics including the pioneering Probot, a robot designed to aid prostate gland surgery, Freehand, a robotic camera holder for keyhole surgery, as well as visionary mini-robots that are designed to crawl, swim and explore inside the human body.

Exhibits include ‘mini-robots’ which are around 10 to 15 mm in diameter, many of which are still at prototype stage. Mini-robots featured in the exhibition include the prototype Robotic Camera Pill which will be swallowed by patients in a pill form, allowing doctors to guide the robots by remote control using images beamed back to a screen. Also included is the ARES Robot prototype which will require patients to swallow up to 15 different robotic modules. Once inside the body the modules will assemble themselves into a larger device capable of carrying out surgical procedures.

The exhibition will also feature some famous medical robots from the world of science fiction, from the 1920s ‘Pyschophonic Nurse’, to Japanese manga (printed cartoons) and anime (animated films), plus Britain’s own 2000AD, and ask whether science fiction reflects fact, or if scientists are inspired by the representation of medical robots in films, books and comics.

Speaking ahead of the exhibition, Dr Arianna Menciassi, Associate Professor of Biomedical Robotics at Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Italy, said:

“Many mini and micro-robots have biologically inspired designs which emulate the crawling and wriggling motion of worms and insects, or the swimming motion of bacteria. We turned to biological inspiration because worms have locomotion systems suited to unstructured, slippery environments and are ideally suited for use in the human body.”

Exhibition Curator, Sarah Pearson, said:

“Since the first industrial manufacturing arms appeared in factories almost fifty years ago, robots have been designed to do jobs deemed too tedious, dangerous or precise for humans. They have been used to build micro-processors, explore space and defuse bombs. Only more recently have robots been used to tackle major medical challenges. They have been designed to increase surgeons’ dexterity and control, to support busy nursing staff, or to help doctors make diagnoses. Some of these are proven technologies, while others are still experimental, but we hope that the exhibition will show that robotic surgery is finally coming of age.”

Alongside the exhibition the museum will be hosting robot-building and manga workshops for children, and screenings of related sci-fi and anime films.

Exhibition themes

  • Introduction to medical robots
  • Surgical robots 1985-2009
  • The rise of the master-slave robots
  • Tiny robots explore the body
  • Nursebots
  • Medical robots in popular culture

Key exhibits

  • Probot for prostate surgery (1991)
  • Acrobot for knee replacement (2002)
  • Freehand robotic camera holder (2009)
  • Prototype robotic camera pill (2009)
  • Self-assembling endosurgical prototype (2009)
  • Swimming robot camera prototype (2009)
  • Robotic colonoscope (2009)
  • Bloodbot blood-sampling robot prototype (2001)
  • Digital plaster remote monitoring system (2009)
  • Science fiction:
  • Star Wars medical droid toys (1970s-2008)

Video footage

  • ‘Paddle-worm’ mini-robot prototype for colonoscopy
  • Swimming camera capsule prototype for gastroscopy
  • Reconfigurable robot prototype for endoscopic examination/surgery
  • RI-MAN robotic hospital aid developed by RIKEN, Japan
  • da Vinci System for minimally invasive surgery
  • Animation of micro-robot swimming through the bloodstream







Notes to Editors

 The Royal College of Surgeons of England is committed to enabling surgeons to achieve and maintain the highest standards of surgical practice and patient care. Registered charity number: 212808. For more information please visit

  1. Images and video footage available on request.  Strictly under embargo until September 8, 2009.
  2. The exhibition has been funded by the Frances and Augustus Newman Foundation.
  3. The Robotic Camera Pill and the ARES Robot are designed and developed at the Scuola Superiore Sant’ Anna – CRIM Lab.  The demonstrated robots were supported by the European Commission (in the framework of the ARES and VECTOR projects) and by the Intelligent Microsystem Centre in Seoul, South Korea
  4. If you have any queries please contact:

Matthew Worrall – Email:; T: 020 7869 6047

Elaine Towell – Email:; T: 020 7869 6045

Out-of-hours: 07966 486 832