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Robot puts new twist on tree-lighting ceremony

December 04, 2000

Robot puts new twist on tree-lighting ceremony



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer


Washington County Hospital's auxiliary hosted its annual tree-lighting ceremony Sunday; this year, however, it wasn't a staff member pulling the switch.

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Instead, the job was given to AESOP, a $65,000 robot purchased with money raised by the auxiliary that aids doctors in surgery.

The Automated Endoscopic System for Optimal Positioning (AESOP) robot resembles a skeletal metal arm with a camera attached to one end.

The long, slender camera is inserted into a patient's body through a small incision and a physician performs the procedure while watching a monitor, eliminating the need for a person to control the camera, according to Maureen Theriault, hospital spokeswoman.

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A surgeon moves the camera up and down and left to right with voice commands.

Without AESOP, the camera equipment would be held by a staff member whose arm could get tired and shake during long operations, said Chia-Chuen Su, chief of surgery.

"It's like operating during an earthquake," he said.

Su gave a demonstration of the equipment before the tree lighting.

As eager as a child on Christmas Day, Su put on a headset to send his voice commands to the computer.

He preceded each command by saying "AESOP," which was acknowledged by the computer with a beep. AESOP knows 23 voice commands.

Su made the computer move to the left and right and up and down before slowly directing it over the tree switch.

He then told the computer to turn on the lights, which it did, exacting an audible response from the awed crowd.

Su told the audience of about 50 people he used AESOP for the first time on Friday for a gall bladder surgery and it performed well.

"It will help improve patient care," he said.

The computer is expected to be used by the hospital about four times a week for minimally invasive surgeries like gall bladders and hernias, hospital officials said.

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