HKU team awarded Best Live Demonstration Prize at the Surgical Robot Challenge in London

by Dr. Ka-wai Kwok, Mechanical Engineering
Jul 8, 2016

Surgical Robot Challenge is a world-renowned event open for application to showcase the latest innovations in the field of surgical robotics. This international event is annually organized by The Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC), and UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) Network. Over the last two years, many research institutes worldwide, such as UC Berkeley, Imperial College London, Vanderbilt University, The Hospital for Sick Children, and Israel Institute of Technology, have actively joined the event.

In this year, the HKU team was shortlisted to participate in the final round of the challenge, in which a catheter robot newly-developed was demonstrated, together with twelve other teams. The HKU team involves undergraduate, MPhil and PhD students (6 in total), Pak-To Chan, Martin Leong, Chimlee Cheung, Brian Lee, Ziyan Guo and Ziyang Dong, as well as a postdoctoral fellow, Denny Fu, who are advised by Dr. Ka-Wai Kwok of Mechanical Engineering. The team is well-rounded in a broad range of engineering knowledge from robot actuation designs, control interface/electronics, medical image processing, robot kinematics and dynamics control. Their proposed topic for the challenge is “MR-conditional Catheter Robot for MRI-guided Cardiac Electrophysiological Intervention”, which aims to improve the outcomes of therapeutic cardiac electrophysiology (EP) intervention – an effective treatment to arrhythmias, so called heart rhythm disorder. Throughout the challenge, it was a pleasure to have strong clinical knowledge input from cardiologist Dr. Alex Lee of Prince Wales Hospital.

Preparation of live demo by team members

All the participating teams had to demonstrate their robot prototype in front of the general public, surgical roboticists, and a panel of 10 judges comprising experts either in academics or healthcare industries. The HKU catheter robot is the first of its kind capable to operate inside magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner for cardiac catheterization. The robot-assisted control of the catheter, combined with the real-time visual feedback and enhanced procedural monitoring of cardiac ablation under intra-op MRI, can greatly improve the safety, accuracy and effectiveness of the EP surgery. One major objective is to reduce the chances of post-procedural arrhythmia recurrence (currently up to 30-50%), thus compensating the overall healthcare cost in the long term.

Demonstration of the team's robot prototype by Dr. Ka-wai Kwok (left)

Not only did the team need to deal with various technological challenges, e.g. forbidden use of metallic materials and conventional motor, but also they had to reassemble the whole setup, including a dynamic atrial phantom model, in order to carry out a simulated EP task in the event venue for a day. It was very challenging to make sure a smooth and robust operation of their robot, after traveling halfway across the globe to London. The complete demonstration, as well as the novel technical functions of the robot, successfully impressed the panel who finally awarded the HKU team with the Best Live Demonstration Prize at IET’s London home - Savoy Place. This marked the finale of UK Robotics Week supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering. To promote translational research in real practice, the team will carry on training young talents who intend to engage in innovative technology for medical applications.  

Group photo of the HKU team for the Best Live Demonostration Prize