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Robert J. Webster III

VISE Steering Committee Member

Richard A. Schroeder Professor in Mechanical Engineering, Professor of Electrical Engineering
Professor of Otolaryngology, Urologic Surgery, Neurological Surgery, and Medicine


Ph.D., Mechanical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University -2007
M.S., Mechanical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University -2004
B.S., Electrical Engineering, Clemson University -2002

Research Interests:

My research interests are in surgical robotics in particular, and more generally in applying scientific and engineering tools to enhance all aspects of medicine. My students and I typically focus on the clinical problem first, and work with surgeon collaborators to determine the best devices and theoretical approaches to solve it (which may be robots or even purely mechanical devices). Projects in my lab typically involve the design and modeling of novel systems that make surgery less invasive and/or more accurate. This involves designing and constructing robots that are smaller and more dexterous than existing surgical robots, and fusing image guidance into the system to help the surgeon perform surgery more accurately.  Specific current projects include robots for natural orifice surgery (we have developed specific systems for surgery through the nostrils, throat, and urethra), inner ear surgery, lung interventions, image-guided kidney surgery, and novel treatments for brain tumors, bleeding in the brain, and epilepsy. Theoretical aspects of this research involve screw theory, mechanics-based modeling, and optimal mechanism design, among other techniques.

Laboratory Description:

Medical Engineering and Discovery Laboratory
The MED lab is a place where doctors and engineers work side by side to create new lifesaving medical technologies. We design and construct devices to make interventional medicine more accurate, less invasive, and more effective. With a world-class medical center a 5-minute walk from the lab, we are often in operating rooms observing surgical procedures and conducting experiments with the devices we build. We also patent our work, which enables us to transfer it to commercial products, amplifying its real-world impact. Our partners include startup companies such as Pathfinder Theraputics and Acoustic MedSystems, as well as larger companies including Intuitive Surgical and MathWorks. Current major projects include a surgical robot with tentacle-like, needle-diameter arms that removes tumors from the center of the head through the nose (partnership with Neurosurgery), a parallel robot that reduces invasiveness in cochlear implant surgery which restores hearing to the deaf (partnership with Otolanrygology), endowing the da Vinci with “surgical GPS” to enable more accurate and less invasive kidney surgery (partnership with Urologic Surgery), as well as systems for lung interventions (partnership with Radiology), transurethral laser prostate surgery (partnership with Urologic Surgery), and needle-based treatment of cerebral hemorrhages and epilepsy (partnership with Neurological Surgery). Graduate and undergraduate students in the MED Lab receive a unique educational experience in which they work side by side with surgeons, and are encouraged to pursue not only ongoing lab projects, but also their own ideas as they learn to be innovators in surgical engineering and robotics.

The Rise of Robots in the Operating Room|||TedxNashvilleSalon

“We use lots of robotics because we’re mechanical engineers and robots are a great tool. But we also use every other tool at our disposal as mechanical engineers to be able to make medicine better in whatever way possible.”

Areas of Research: Image-Guided Surgery, Robotics, Surgical Robotics