National Science Foundation Awards $491,000 To Develop First Robotic Surgical Instrument Server at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/The Allen Pavilion

Nov 16, 2004


The National Science Foundation has awarded a grant of more than $491,000 for the continued development of a robotic surgical instrument server at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/The Allen Pavilion.

The system, known as Penelope™, would be the world's first vision-guided, autonomous surgical robot and could save hospitals money and improve efficiency of care in the operating room. The system uses digital imaging technology to identify surgical instruments and hand them to a surgeon at voice command. When the surgeon has used the instrument, Penelope returns it to its position on the surgical tray.

Penelope could be configured to handle additional instruments for more complex surgeries, keep an accurate count of instruments, and free operating room personnel for more direct patient care.

The National Science Foundation made the grant to Robotic Surgical Tech, Inc., under the Small Business Innovation Research program. The development of Penelope is led by Dr. Michael R. Treat, an attending surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/The Allen Pavilion and associate professor of Clinical Surgery at Columbia University Medical Center's College of Physicians and Surgeons.

"Penelope is a creative response to major problems facing U.S. hospitals, including litigation costs and the chronic shortage of nursing staff and technicians," said Dr. Treat. "By performing mechanical tasks like instrument handling and maintaining accurate instrument counts, Penelope frees the operating room staff to concentrate on the human side of patient care."

"Health care faces diverse issues of quality, access and cost. Technology has the promise of solving many of them," said Dr. Herbert Pardes, President and CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. "The surgical instrument server promises to be an effective tool to assist the operating room staff. It is one example of NewYork-Presbyterian's leadership and commitment to develop the next generation of solutions."

Other major supporters of the project are: NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, National Institute of Nursing Research of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), The United States Army's Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC), Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), New York State Office of Science, and Technology and Academic Research (NYSTAR).


Penelope is comprised of a robotic arm, the instrument platform, the system stand, and the system control software. The arm's electromagnetic gripper can pick up surgical instruments weighing up to 8 ounces. The digital cameras standing above the instrument tray allow the system to identify instruments by shape. Using speech recognition, it processes instructions from the surgeon and speaks back to the surgeon. Penelope uses an artificial intelligence "brain" to integrate her capabilities. The artificial intelligence software incorporates a unique innovation – the prediction engine. The prediction engine anticipates the surgeon's instrument requests, as an experienced operating room scrub nurse or technician would do.

The prediction engine and the other aspects of the software "brain" of the robot were developed with the support of the National Science Foundation. The robot may be previewed at the NSF website.

The National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5.58 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 40,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,000 new funding awards. The NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital is the largest not-for-profit, non-sectarian hospital in the country. It provides state-of-the-art inpatient, ambulatory, and preventive care in all areas of medicine at five major centers: NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, Children's Hospital of NewYork-Presbyterian, the Allen Pavilion, and the Westchester Division. It consistently ranks as one of the top hospitals in the country in U.S.News & World Report's guide to "America's Best Hospitals." The NewYork-Presbyterian Healthcare System – an affiliation of acute-care and community hospitals, long-term care facilities, ambulatory sites, and specialty institutes – serves one in four patients in the New York metropolitan area.

Columbia University Medical Center

Located in New York City, Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic and clinical research, medical education, and health care. Columbia University Medical Center includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, and other health professionals at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the School of Dental & Oral Surgery, the School of Nursing, the Mailman School of Public Health, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. The pioneering tradition of Columbia University health scientists, who achieved some of the 20th century's most significant medical breakthroughs, continues today.