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Teleoperated surgical instruments


Akhil Madhani, who recently graduated with a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at MIT, has invented robotic instruments for use in fields as diverse as surgery and space exploration.

Madhani was born in Kenya in 1968. Like many inventors, including Jerome Lemelson himself, Madhani's inspiration to invent comes partly from the fact that his father is a doctor. Recently, Madhani was observing while his father performed an arthroscopy, viewing a joint by a probe inserted into the body through a small incision. Such methods of "minimally invasive surgery" (MIS) have been developed because the less cutting a surgeon must do, the less traumatic the treatment is to the patient.

Madhani realized that technology could play a broader and more active role in MIS. Relying on the expertise in robotics that he had gained at the Vision and Touch Guided Manipulation group at MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab, Madhani invented the Black Falcon, a teleoperated surgical instrument. The Black Falcon allows a surgeon to manipulate bodily tissue, and to sew and tie off sutures, at a distance (the meaning of "teleoperational"). For example, coronary bypass surgery traditionally requires that the patient's ribcage be split down the middle and spread open; the Black Falcon will allow the essential procedures of such an operation to be performed through small incisions between the ribs.

Madhani now has five patents pending. His earlier inventions are currently being used by NASA and Walt Disney Imagineering Labs. For example, Madhani invented the Talon, a robotic wrist and hand for use in remote autonomous exploration like that of the Mars Sojourner. The Talon was an outgrowth of Madhani's work on "WAM," a robotic whole arm manipulator that can actually throw and catch a ball.

In addition to inventing, Akhil Madhani actively promotes invention as a career choice, for example by working with MIT's MITES (Minority Introduction to Engineering & Science) Program. For his many contributions to the field, Madhani was recently awarded the 1998 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for Inventiveness.

[Feb. 1998]

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