Abu Dhabi: Within the next five years, robotics technology could allow surgeons to offer minimally invasive heart surgeries to patients in the UAE, a top researcher said in the capital on Monday.

Currently, most cardiac procedures are very invasive, requiring surgeons to cut open the sternum and remove the lungs before being they can operate on the heart. But this could change if surgical robots used for laparoscopic procedures can be made more flexible and sensitive, Dr Antonios Tzes, professors of electrical and computer engineering at the New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), told Gulf News.

“We would have to make the sensors on the surgical robots much smaller, and the robots themselves extremely reliable, but I believe that this kind of breakthrough is on its way. And we hope to usher it into the UAE,” Dr Tzes said.

“What’s more, such robots could make all kinds of procedures easier on surgeons, especially ones that are long and complicated,” he added.

Dr Tzes was speaking on the sidelines of the first international symposium on Intelligent Robots, organised in the capital by the NYUAD Institute. The two-day symposium that kicked off on Monday saw experts discuss the latest developments and advancements in robotics, autonomy, computer vision and machine learning.

According to Dr Tzes, there is great interest in robotics at present, and some of the most exciting new developments will be seen in the field of healthcare and rehabilitation.

“For instance, robots placed on surgical instruments already offer a great view of the surgical field. But if we can shrink them by a factor of 10 and make them flexible, we can help reduce the number of incisions required for a laparoscopic surgery from three to one,” the professor explained.

But bringing any technological advancement in surgery to the UAE would also mean that surgeons would have to train themselves.

“Still, there is a 20 per cent annual growth in the number of robotics-assisted surgeries around the world, and we hope to facilitate this kind of growth here,” Dr Tzes said.

And it is not just healthcare that is poised to see the greatest developments in robotics in the UAE. In fact, the country’s entrepreneurial spirit and push towards innovation could place it at the forefront of increasing robotics penetration in everyday life, said Dr Lakmal Senevitratne, director of the robotics institute and associate vice president for research at Khalifa University.

“We have already seen the Dubai Government announcing its aim to make 25 per cent of its modes of transportation autonomous by 2030. Such a drive towards automation could greatly reduce the rate of road traffic fatalities while also decreasing congestion. What places the UAE in a unique position is its diversifying economy and focus on innovation and knowledge, which is why we could see great advances in robotics implemented here first,” Dr Senevitratne said.

At present, the penetration of robotics in every day applications is still low internationally, estimated at 1 to 5 per cent.

“We see robots and artificial intelligence used mainly in manufacturing, with only a few models used for household cleaning and security. But with the high levels of investment we are seeing right now, all of this could very well increase substantially over the next decade,” Dr Senevitratne added.