Collaborative Suturing: A Reinforcement Learning Approach to Automate Hand-off Task in Suturing for Surgical Robots
Over the past decade, Robot-Assisted Surgeries (RAS), have become more prevalent in facilitating successful operations. Of the various types of RAS, the domain of collaborative surgery has gained traction in medical research. Prominent examples include providing haptic feedback to sense tissue consistency, and automating sub-tasks during surgery such as cutting or needle hand-off - pulling and reorienting the needle after insertion during suturing. By fragmenting suturing into automated and manual tasks the surgeon could essentially control the process with one hand and also circumvent workspace restrictions imposed by the control interface present at the surgeon's side during the operation. This paper presents an exploration of a discrete reinforcement learning-based approach to automate the needle hand-off task. Users were asked to perform a simple running suture using the da Vinci Research Kit. The user trajectory was learnt by generating a sparse reward function and deriving an optimal policy using Q-learning. Trajectories obtained from three learnt policies were compared to the user defined trajectory. The results showed a root-mean-square error of [0.0044mm, 0.0027mm, 0.0020mm] in ℝ 3 . Additional trajectories from varying initial positions were produced from a single policy to simulate repeated passes of the hand-off task.