Vitreoretinal surgeries, which are performed inside the eye, require a degree of precision and stability that is extremely difficult for the human hand to sustain. A big increase in vitreoretinal diseases, strongly correlated to the aging population, demands the development of new treatments that require even higher levels of precision. A potential new treatment for retinal vein occlusions, for example, would involve inserting a needle into a vein as thin as a human hair and holding it still for about 10 minutes—a task that would be virtually impossible for even the most skilled surgeons.
Surgeons at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, England, performed the world’s first robot-assisted vitreoretinal surgery in 2016. They used the PRECEYES Surgical System, a robotic assistant that scales the surgeon’s movements and filters hand tremors to enable unprecedented steadiness and precision.
More recently, Preceyes started clinical trials at Rotterdam Eye Hospital. They successfully integrated their newly developed distance sensor in the robot and validated the robot-sensor combination. The sensor measures the distance of an instrument from the retina inside the eye. Providing sensor-based safety and guidance, this approach promises to provide significant safety and performance benefits during demanding retinal surgery. Moreover, it will be a valuable source of data for training and evaluation. Engineers at Preceyes designed and implemented the robot’s control system using Model-Based Design with MATLAB®, Simulink®, and Simulink Real-Time™.
“As a lean startup, it was important for us to achieve a first release quickly without compromising safety, in order to obtain clinical feedback and to build evidence, before designing a final product,” says Maarten Beelen, cofounder and integration manager at Preceyes. “Simulink and Simulink Real-Time enabled us to rapidly design our controller, verify it, implement it on a real-time system, and test it with users. A traditional software development workflow would probably have extended our timeline considerably.”