Tech Talk – Smarter, smaller and softer robots for medical image-guided minimally invasive surgery

All members of the HKU community and the general public are welcome to join!
Speaker: Dr. Ka-Wai Kwok, Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, HKU
Date: 2nd June 2022 (Thursday)

Time: 4:30pm
About the Tech Talk
Speaker: Dr. Ka-Wai Kwok, Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, HKU
Mode: Mixed
Moderator: Professor Kenneth Wong, Head, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, HKU
Date: 2nd June 2022 (Thursday)
Venue: Inno Wing Two / Zoom 
Language: English
In recent years, there has been a trend towards integrating small, soft and deformable structures into surgical robot systems. Target applications include endoscopy or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-guided intervention, where researchers take advantage of soft and flexible robots for their inherent mechanical compliance. However, these flexible robotic systems are often controlled in an open loop or with positional feedback from 3D tracking devices. Not only the real-time feedback of flexible/soft robot configuration or morphology itself is of importance, but also the robot manipulation modelling, as well as its intelligent control, become an area of interest in the field. To this end, this talk will present various robot prototypes, which attempt to resolve unmet clinical and technical challenges for image-guided intervention or surgery, either in strong magnetic field (1.5-3T) by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner or in confined anatomical space through endoscopy. Machine intelligent approaches, and also the recent advances in continuum robot design and learning-based sensing/control will also be overviewed. These robots have to incorporate with efficient mechanical transmission, thus enabling delicate mechanical force/motion transmitted from actuators to surgical tools in a long and flexible route. The ultimate goal is to provide high-performance control of robotics instruments for safe, precise and effective surgical manipulation. The speaker will not only share his research outcome, but also various difficulties in his up-and-down research journey, from R&D in university, (pre-)clinical trials in hospital, then technology transfer for clinical applications.
  • The tech talk “Smarter, smaller and softer robots for medical image-guided minimally invasive surgery” will be organized in the Tam Wing Fan Innovation Wing Two (G/F, Run Run Shaw Building, HKU) on 2nd June 2022 (Thursday), 4:30 pm.
  • Seats are limited. Zoom broadcast is available if the seating quota is full. 
  • Registrants on the waiting list will be notified of the arrangement after the registration deadline (with seating/free-standing/other arrangement)
  • Please read the Campus Access and HKU Vaccine Pass (
  • Stay Tuned.
Recording of the Tech Talk
Recording of the Tech Talk​
About the speaker

Dr. Ka-Wai Kwok

Dr. Ka-Wai Kwok is currently an Associate Professor at Department of Mechanical Engineering, HKU. His research focus on surgical robotics, intra-operative image processing, and their uses of intelligent systems, in particular for endoscopy, stereotactic and intra-cardiac catheter interventions. To date, he has co-authored with over 50 clinical fellows and 90 engineering scientists. His multidisciplinary work has been recognized by various international conference/journal paper awards (>10), e.g. the Best Conference Paper Award in 2018 ICRA (IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation). He was also the recipient of IROS Toshio Fukuda Young Professional Award in 2020 IROS (IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems), for his contributions to MRI-guided robotic systems. He also obtained awards in his early career in robotics, e.g. the Early Career Awards 2015/16 offered by Research Grants Council (RGC) of Hong Kong, Actuators 2020 Young Investigator Award, HKU 2019-2021 Outstanding Young Researcher Award and HKU Young Innovator Award 2020.
Project images
About the project

Soft Robotic Manipulator for Intra-operative MRI-guided Transoral Laser Microsurgery

Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging (MRI) provides compelling features for the guidance of interventional procedures, including high-contrast soft tissue imaging, detailed visualization of physiological changes, and thermometry. Laser-based tumor ablation stands to benefit greatly from MRI guidance because 3D resection margins alongside thermal distributions can be evaluated in real time to protect critical structures while ensuring adequate resection margins. However, few studies have investigated the use of projection-based lasers like those for transoral laser microsurgery, potentially because dexterous laser steering is required at the ablation site, raising substantial challenges in the confined MRI bore and its strong magnetic field. Here, we propose an MR-safe soft robotic system for MRI-guided transoral laser microsurgery. Owing to its miniature size (Ø12 × 100 mm), inherent compliance, and five degrees of freedom, the soft robot ensures zero electromagnetic interference with MRI and enables safe and dexterous operation within the confined oral and pharyngeal cavities. The laser manipulator is rapidly fabricated with hybrid soft and hard structures and is powered by microvolume (<0.004 milliter) fluid flow to enable laser steering with enhanced stiffness and lowered hysteresis. A learning-based controller accommodates the inherent nonlinear robot actuation, which was validated with laser path-following tests. Submillimeter laser steering accuracy was demonstrated with a mean error < 0.20 mm. MRI compatibility testing demonstrated zero observable image artifacts during robot operation. Ex vivo tissue ablation and a cadaveric head-and-neck trial were carried out under MRI, where we employed MR thermometry to monitor the tissue ablation margin and thermal diffusion intraoperatively.

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