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World's first intubation robot tested on human subjects


April 19, 2011

A robotic intubation system that inserts endotracheal tubes in patients is being tested on human subjects(Photos courtesy McGill University Health Centre)

A robotic intubation system that inserts endotracheal tubes in patients is being tested on human subjects
(Photos courtesy McGill University Health Centre)

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Pretty much any time a patient is placed under a general anesthetic, a plastic endotracheal tube is inserted down their throat, in order to keep their airway open. The procedure is known as intubation, and has so far always been performed by hand. In this age of robotic surgery, however, it's perhaps not surprising to hear that surgeons at Montreal's McGill University Health Centre are now trying out a remote-control intubation system on human subjects.

The robotic system is called the Kepler Intubation System (KIS), and was developed by McGill Professor of Anesthesia Dr. Thomas M. Hemmerling and his team.

Intubation is a tricky process, and even experienced medical personnel can reportedly sometimes find it challenging. "Difficulties arise because of patient characteristics but there is no doubt that there are also differences in individual airway management skills that can influence the performance of safe airway management," said Hemmerling. "These influences may be greatly reduced when the KIS is used."

The system incorporates a joystick-controlled video-laryngoscope, which lets the user see inside the patient's trachea. They can then safely and precisely insert the endotracheal tube, steering it along the path of least resistance.

After a period of practicing on medical simulation mannequins, field testing of KIS on human patients has now begun.

"We think that The Kepler Intubation System can assist the anesthesiologist's arms and hands to perform manual tasks with less force, higher precision and safety," said Hemmerling. "One day, it might actually be the standard practice of airway management."

Hemmerling's lab was also responsible for the creation of the world's first anesthesia robot, nicknamed McSleepy, in 2008.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Impressive.. Very good idea. If you need a living patient to test it on let me know.

Michael Mantion

I amazes it me at the control unit looks like a LogicTech flight control system, am I right or is just?

Justin Schetrompf

Sure looks like it, Justin.

Kenneth Marken

Nice idea. However, robots require additional time to set up to be used. Emergency surgeries may be delayed to set up the robot. Also how long does it take to put the robot into place and maneuver the tube into place? Patients are not breathing on their own after induction of anesthesia and you have just moments to get the tube in place and begin ventilating the patient before serious complications arise. Also how quickly can the robot be removed due to failed intubation to begin rescue ventilation by mask/ bag?

Robots are very helpful, but are cumbersome to set up and use. For instance, a hernia repair might take only 30 to 45 minutes in skilled hands but setup and use of a Davinci robot for the same procedure triples the time for the same surgery. The only advantage is that the facility gets to charge a lot more money for the procedure due to the use of the robot.


@Charles, the main advantages of the da Vinci robot are faster recovery, less infection, smaller incesions, less invasive, less pain.

A typical heart bypass requires a the sternum to be split and rib cage opened up to allow access to the heart. This causes lots of pain after the surgery and extends healing time. The same surgery performed with a da Vinci robot can be done without cutting the sternum but through several small incisions between the ribs.

Less recovery time and less infections help offset the high cost ($1M) of the robot however it isn't cost effective for all surgies.


I really don\'t like the idea at all - endotracheal tubes are designed to be used on humans BY humans - a robotic one should have an eye on it\'s end and a few tentacle like motion tubes on the length (I guess three by 120 degree and three levels of it) - so it can go inside and move free . more like a gastroscope . it could be easy to use and sterile , as the parts in contact with the patient is just a latex-like \"glove\" - that would be simpler , more elegant , more efficient , cheaper .

Károly Hőss

As a parent of a child who has a severely compromised trachea, I look at this story with much interest. My 13 year old son has already been through more than 40 procedures and surgeries and each time the anaesthetist comments about how difficult he is to intubate. Hopefully Dr. Hemmerling\'s system can be perfected and mastered so that people who need it\'s precision can benefit.

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