Research in Medical Robotics

– written by Cenk Baykal, BS Computer Science and Mathematics

When I started at UNC, I didn’t have the slightest idea what undergraduate research was. As a freshman, I heard about research opportunities, but given my inexperience, I was hesitant on pursuing them until my sophomore year. That year, I began to work as a research assistant in Enabling Technologies under the supervision of Dr. Gary Bishop. During this time, I helped develop and enhance, a website designed to provide a collection of easy-to-read books, and created an online game designed for visually impaired students. I was able to see the positive impact this work had, and wanted to continue conducting research afterwards.

I then became a research assistant in the Computational Robotics Group led by Dr. Ron Alterovitz. In the robotics group, I’ve been researching concentric tube robots – medical robots that have potential to enable novel and minimally-invasive surgical procedures. One challenge that we’ve faced is allowing for intuitive control of these robots by physicians. Hence, I have worked with graduate student Luis Torres and developed a multi-component system architecture that bridges real-time motion planning with an interactive user interface and visualization. Concurrently with my robotics work, I conducted research with Dr. Ming Lin and graduate student David Wilkie on participatory route planning, which culminated in the creation of a mobile system, similar to Google Maps, that was able to generate optimal route plans by considering the impact of the system’s own plans on future traffic conditions.

An image of the cocentric tube robot used in Cenk's project.

An image of the cocentric tube robot used in Cenk’s project.

During Summer 2014, I continued my research on concentric tube robots with the help of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) and my advisor Dr. Ron Alterovitz. Namely, I have been investigating the optimization of the design of these medical robots on an application- and patient-specific basis. More specifically, I have been developing a software program that is capable of computing the optimal design under which the robot can feasibly maneuver to clinical regions of interest and simultaneously avoid damage to surrounding tissue. This has been an extremely exciting project and a great experience as it not only combines my passion for Computer Science and Math, but also has potential to facilitate the use of concentric tube robots for early diagnosis of lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Thanks to the Dunlevie Honors Undergraduate Research Award, I will be extending my work and writing an honors thesis on the design optimization for concentric tube robots during my senior year.

In retrospect, undergraduate research has definitely been a highlight of my experience at Carolina. I had the opportunity to work on fascinating projects and collaborate with outstanding professors, graduate students, and mentors, to whom I am extremely grateful. Conducting research has exposed me to a wide variety of notions and concepts that I would not otherwise be introduced to in a classroom setting alone. Participating in undergraduate research has also motivated me to apply to graduate schools this fall in pursuit of a PhD in Computer Science, something that had never crossed my mind when I first came to Carolina. I would definitely encourage every undergraduate student to give research a try and not be demotivated by qualms concerning lack of experience or skill. As I look back on my research experience, the only regret I have is not starting any sooner.

For more information about these projects please see:


One Comment

  1. Posted June 13, 2015 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Medical robotics is one of the things that makes me glad to live in modern times. I know we’re not in bionic man territory yet, but it’s great to see new technologies come about that really help people.