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MRI-guided surgical robot project wins best award in leading international robotics conference


A HKU engineering team led by Dr Kwok Ka-wai of Mechanical Engineering, the Faculty of Engineering, has developed a robot capable of performing stereotactic neurosurgeries inside the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. One of the surgical procedures is deep brain stimulation, which is an effective treatment to many movement disorders such as Parkinson disease and essential tremor. The team successfully resolved many unmet technical challenges to enable localization or manipulation of robot in a very strong magnetic field induced by the scanner. The presented MRI-guided and robot-assisted system facilitates a minimally invasive approach also for biopsy or thermal ablation of brain tumors.

The team co-authored with surgeons from The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) was conferred the Best Conference Paper Award in the largest international forum for robotics scientists, the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation 2018 (ICRA 2018), which was just held in Brisbane, Australia, from May 21 to 25, 2018. More than 3,000 participants from academia and industry join the conference annually. This year, ICRA reviewed 2,539 papers, a new record in its history, from 61 countries. Totally 1,030 papers were selected for presentation. The ICRA is the world’s top conference where robotics scientists can introduce and present their latest work.

This year, the team was conferred the final best out of 35 finalists in all the nine robotics categories, including robot vision, cognitive robotics, robot manipulation and unmanned aerial vehicles. According to the citation of ICRA’s award panel, the work is “A highly compact hydraulic system with integrated tracking for MRI-guided neurosurgery. The work is complete from design and development to detailed evaluation studies, which demonstrated a clear translational path to clinical studies.” Other shortlisted universities and companies include MIT, Harvard, Stanford and DeepMind. The team project was also shortlisted as a finalist of the Medical Robotics paper award in the same Conference.

The HKU engineers comprises seven students, Ms Guo Ziyan, Mr Dong Ziyang, Mr Lee Kit-hang, Mr Cheung Chim-lee, Mr Fu Hing-choi, Mr Justin Ho Di-lang, and Mr He Haokun, supervised by Dr Kwok Ka-wai of the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering. Guo Ziyan is the first author of the awarded conference paper. This is the first time ever that the award is conferred to a female engineer as the paper’s first author since its establishment in 1993. Throughout the project, the HKU engineering work was supported with the strong clinical input from Dr Danny Chan Tat-ming and Professor Poon Wai-Sang at Division of Neurosurgery, Department of Surgery, CUHK.


HKU mechanical team (from left): Dr. Kwok Ka-wai, Mr. Lee Kit-hang, Mr. Fu Hing-choi, Mr. Ho Di-lang, Mr. Dong Ziyang and Ms. Guo Ziyan on the stage for the Best Conference Paper Award in ICRA 2018.