Robots are the tools of the future. For the first time ever, surgeons have been able to use a robot to perform a surgery inside of a patient’s eye, which successfully restored his sight. For a long time, robots have been used to assist with surgeries, but never before on the inside of the eye.

What is it?

The robot is called the Preceyes surgical robot and was developed by a Dutch company. Previously, robots used in surgery have been large, but this tiny robot is the first that has been small and precise enough to do invasive eye surgery. The robot inserts a thin needle into the eye and is controlled by a joystick and touch screen the surgeon uses to maneuver the robot, who also monitors its progress through a microscope. The robot is like a mechanical hand and has seven different motors to control it. It’s even able to filter out hand tremors from the surgeon, thus preventing damage to the eye and as soon as the surgeon releases their grip on the joystick, the robot freezes. Generally, this operation is done by hand and hemorrhaging occurs from the retina, which did not happen with the robot.

The Surgery

This experimental surgery was performed on Curate Bill Beaver, 70, who lives in Oxford. The procedure was performed at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital. A membrane obscuring Beaver’s vision was successfully removed, even though it was only one hundredth of a millimeter thick. Beaver stated, “It’s almost the world of fairy tales but it’s true. I’m just fortunate that I’m the first to have it.”

The membrane in Beaver’s eye was spotted by his optrician in July on the back of his right eye. The pressure on the retina by the membrane began obscuring his central vision and causing serious damage. He received the revolutionary surgery at the end of August and his vision in his right eye is back. He’s currently short-sighted, but distance vision will return in the coming months after complete recovery.

Future Uses?

Twelve other patients are already in line to receive surgery from the robot, which will be funded by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre. A Dutch charity, Zizoz, will provide additional funding as well, in hopes of helping patients suffering from genetic forms of blindness.

Surgeons believe that the development of the robot will lead to more sophisticated surgeries that currently cannot be accomplished by human hands. There is also a vision that the technology can be outsourced to surgeons’ offices and become fully automated to complete the surgery in under ten minutes, a currently unheard of process.