When it comes to some of the more interesting design experiments we’ve seen in recent memory, the design and architecture blog Dezeen - along with car manufacturer MINI - have been actively collaborating with a number of artists and designers under their ‘Frontiers’ campaign to develop futuristic concepts that create new conversations about wild and new applications for today’s existing technologies.
So far, this has resulted in everything from a virtual reality platform that will allow architects ‘to change the world like a god’ and fleets of robots that allow the public to explore galleries by night to a weaving system that’s powered by drones and product designs that are grown from fungus.
For their most recent Frontiers project, Dezeen and MINI collaborated with Royal College of Art graduate Frank Kolkman to build an open-source surgical robot machine that could enable people to perform keyhole surgery on themselves using just a Playstation 3 video game controller.
The project, called OpenSurgery, is a surgical robot that’s made from a combination of off-the-shelf components and custom-designed 3D printed parts. Similar to a lot of existing product designs that have been made from open source platforms, the majority of the project consisted of pairing hacked electronics that were purchased online with a 3D printed housing design.
"OpenSurgery investigates whether DIY surgical tools outside regulated healthcare systems could plausibly provide a more accessible version of healthcare," explains Kolkman.
"Essentially the same electronics that drive a domestic 3D printer drive this surgery robot. All the other parts are off-the-shelf. By bringing all of these parts together you're able to create a semi-functioning surgery machine."
Although he admits that the project is controversial, he believes that the option is better than many basic self-surgery procedures that some people source tutorials for online before performing the surgeries on themselves. Unsurprisingly, a majority of these are for people who have little or no access to proper healthcare. It was recently presented by Kolkman at the Royal College of Art’s Design Interactions graduate show.
"What is happening now is that people turn to YouTube to share DIY tutorials," he explains. "I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if you supply this group of people – who have no alternative at this point – with more capable tools outside of healthcare regulations."
Currently, the 3D printed machine is set up to run through a Playstation 3 controller because of its global availability and universally-understood design. Additionally, the controller can be programmed to be precise enough that even a surgeon could operate it.
In total, Kolkman spent five months building OpenSurgery from scratch at a cost of just $5,000. In comparison, an existing robot designed for keyhole surgery costs at least $2 million. Although the OpenSurgery machine is theoretically capable of performing keyhole surgery, Kolkman has been yet to perform an operation with the machine and has no intentions on doing so anytime soon.
“The intentions of this machine are not to perform any kind of operation,” he adds.
“But more to provoke alternative ways of thinking of medical innovation by taking it outside the social economic framework it operates in."