Robots have been used for some wonderful and useful things in recent years. They can be cute pets, that in some ways surpass the biological sort. They can do the vacuuming. Police departments have been using robots for years as tools for bomb disposal and much of what has been found at the bottom of the ocean would not have been possible without deep sea rovers.

Not to mention what can be done with unmanned space exploration that would not have been possible sending living things into the big black. And those are robots of regular to large size.

There is still, as yet, uncharted potential when it comes to the theoretical no longer discipline of nanotechnology. Researchers are working on devices with never before thought of utility in terms of medicine delivery and even cell repair and rebuilding.

On the slightly less science fiction side of things, but no less impressive, are the smaller than usual, but not quite nano robots that have been developed to aid in eye surgery.

An eye opening technology

The robots, officially named Robotic Retinal Device but known as ‘R2D2’ by the science fiction geek developers. ‘R2D2’ is small enough and soft enough to crawl into an incision made in the eyeball and do all manners of horrifying but helpful things, such as lift a membrane that is no more than a hundredth of a millimeter.

The adorable little device is far from artificial intelligence, likely to the great relief of anyone likely to experience it. It is controlled by a joystick using cables that are a touch more than 110 microns in width, a squint wider than a human hair.

No one has specified if using the robot is like having a hair in your eye. The ‘R2D2’ is navigated by a tiny camera feed going to the ophthalmologist at the controls.

Maiden voyage: Robotic retinal surgery

As of September 2016, a professor at that most ancient of education institutions, Oxford University, used the robot to perform the first operation conducted from inside the human eye.

Since then, another five people have had received robotic retinal surgery with the device in Oxford. Which is not really a surprise as it was an Oxford professor by the name of Alan Turning. Not to be confused with the man who basically created the modern computer, originally known as ‘Turning Machines’. Funny how things come back around.

New vehicle

In addition to having its own functionality, the ‘R2D2’ robot has uses as a delivery device for other innovations which could be useful in human healing and health. For example, it was used to implant a gene therapy virus shown to halt the progress of retinal degeneration.

Part of what made this procedure unprecedented was the fact that the virus was implanted into the retina itself, maximizing the potential effectiveness of the treatment. Something that would have been impossible with any of the previously existing technology and techniques available to the medical profession.

It took this particular, specially designed technology to achieve a successful robotic retinal surgery and save the sight of hundreds of people.

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Trevor McNeil
Trevor McNeil spent much of his childhood playing video-games on early-form personal computers back when the disks were literally floppy. He attended the University of Victoria, completing a degree in Social Science with a concentration in Technology In Society, while also writing for the campus newspaper. He has written articles for such diverse publications as Humanity Death Watch, PopMatters and Perfect Sound Forever. He is a veteran of numerous “watershed moments” in the history of technological development and firmly believes that Han shot first.

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