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Developing Single-arm Laparoscopic Surgical Robots in China

Chinese researchers have completed the First-in-Man (FIM) clinical trial using a single-arm laparoscopic surgical robot in China, according to the Beijing Friendship Hospital affiliated with Capital Medical University.

Based on a large number of animal experiments, research teams from the Beijing Friendship Hospital and the First Hospital of Lanzhou University used a domestically developed surgical robot to perform a single-port laparoscopic cholecystectomy. A single-port laparoscopic surgery is generally performed in the thoracic or abdominal cavity through a single small incision of two to three centimetres on the surface of the body.

The domestically developed surgical robot uses unique single-arm technology and is flexible and easy to operate. The high dexterity of the snake-shaped device allows for seven degrees of freedom in a limited space.

– Zhang Zhongtao, Research Team Leader & Pprofessor, Capital Medical University

Compared with conventional multi-port laparoscopic surgery, single-port surgery is a promising clinical solution thanks to its smaller incision, less invasion of tissues, shorter positioning time and larger positioning space for the robotic system. Previously, the domestically developed surgical robot-assisted clinical experts in many difficult operations, including urologic surgery, general surgery, thoracic surgery and gynecologic surgery, creating vital clinical value.

China has highlighted the importance of robotics in its 15-year plan for science and technology. The central government fleshed out these ambitions in its 12th five-year plan, specifying that robots should be used to support society in a wide range of roles, from helping emergency services during natural disasters and firefighting to performing complex surgery and aiding in medical rehabilitation.

China’s robotics research output has been growing steadily for two decades, driven by three major factors: The clinical utilisation of robotics; increased funding levels driven by national planning needs; and advances in engineering in areas such as precision mechatronics, medical imaging, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and new materials for making robots.

The use of robots in the medical sector, to help in areas such as nursing, physical rehabilitation and surgery, has been a particular priority. China’s need for skilled clinical staff in areas such as health care has contributed to the government’s focus on the robotics industry to help care for citizens in the future.

Although hospitals are keen to use more robots, the market for such technology in China is relatively young. What the Chinese robotics market needs, is an increased number of home-grown Chinese robotics companies that will stimulate competition and demand, and ultimately lower costs.

Developing a product that fully meets the needs of surgeons, hospital staff and patients, while being affordable and also satisfying government regulations and purchasing requirements, is a difficult and lengthy process.

As reported by OpenGov Asia, China has pledged to achieve breakthroughs in core robotic technologies and related high-end products by 2025. China also aims to become an innovation hub for the global robotics industry by 2025, as it works to achieve breakthroughs in robotics components and widen the application of smart machines in more sectors.

The move is part of the nation’s broader push to cope with a greying population and leverage cutting-edge technologies to advance industrial upgrades. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said in a five-year plan that the operating income of China’s robotics industry is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 20% from 2021 to 2025.

China has been the world’s largest market for industrial robots for eight consecutive years. In 2020, the manufacturing robot density, a metric used to measure a country’s level of automation, reached 246 units per 10,000 people in China, nearly twice the global average.

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