RFI for possible directions in autonomous robotic surgery


Request for Information: Possible directions in autonomous robotic surgery (Closed)

The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) is seeking information on possible directions in autonomous robotic surgery. 

View the full Request for Information: Possible Directions in Autonomous Robotic Surgery

Robotic-assisted surgery is increasingly common. However, current robotic systems are used as advanced surgical tools and do not operate with any autonomy. To use the system, the surgeon must understand the robot’s video output and then control the position and action of the robotic manipulators. Autonomous robotic surgery is one approach to help meet the growing demand for surgeons, improving timely access to skilled surgery for patients around the world. 

We are requesting information on a number of topics in autonomous robotic surgery. You can respond to some or all the questions below. Please label your answer according to the numbered questions listed in the request.  

  1. What recent advances and techniques in machine intelligence support robots learning full surgical procedures? What challenges remain? 
  2. What are current and emerging techniques for surgical robotic situational awareness in one or both of the following categories: 
    1. Robotic awareness/understanding of the immediate surgical environment, including vision, proprioception, palpation, and other sensing modalities. 
    2. Robotic awareness/understanding of the state of the surgery, patient, and operating theater, including anesthesia and vitals monitoring, neuromonitoring, location of instruments and sponges, etc 
  3. Discuss current and emerging techniques for the registration of 3D preoperative imaging to 2D and 3D intraoperative imaging, especially in the absence of traditional fiducials. What accuracy are possible? What challenges remain?  
  4. Discuss the potential of autonomous surgical robots, such as swarms of micro-robots, that drastically deviate from mimicking a surgeon’s two hands. What novel form factors exist, and how will we need to reinvent surgical procedures to use these novel robots best?  
  5. Discuss the suitability of different types of surgical procedures and their potential for automation: 
    1. What types of surgical procedures or tasks are most suitable for automation? Explain why, and consider tasks that may be easy to automate (e.g., due to their controlled nature); convenient to automate (e.g., due to high volume); or most beneficial to automate (e.g., due to anatomy unreachable by human surgeons). 
    2. Are there types of surgical procedures you feel should not be addressed by a robot, and why? 
  6. What safety features should autonomous surgical robots have? 
  7. What specialized training will a clinician need to supervise an autonomous surgical robot? What staff are required to be physically present during autonomous robotic surgery? 
  8. For respondents who are surgeons: what are your concerns, as surgeons, regarding autonomous surgery?  
    1. What capabilities would you need to see demonstrated to be confident in allowing a robot to perform parts of a surgery? 
    2. While supervising an autonomous surgical robot, what information would you need to be confident the robot was operating properly? (e.g. robot’s eye view display; robot confidence in success of next step; planned surgery vs actual trajectory, etc) 
  9. What are the ethical, legal, and social implications and considerations of autonomous surgery? What legal and/or regulatory reforms will be required to enable autonomous surgery? 



Interested persons and organizations are invited to submit comments on or before 5:00 PM ET on April 22, 2024. 


Interested individuals and organizations should submit comments electronically to robotic.surgery.RFI@arpa-h.gov and include “RFI Response: Possible Directions in Autonomous Robotic Surgery” and the name of their institution in the subject line of the email. Due to time constraints, electronic submissions received after the deadline may not be taken into consideration. 


Responses should address both the current state of the art, including the gaps in current research and development, and near future directions for any topic chosen. Where possible, quantitative metrics and specifications (how fast, how small, how accurate, how successful, how much computational power) describing current and future system performance should be given and substantiated with references to published literature. Respondents may wish to refer to levels of autonomy 0-5 (0: no autonomy; 1: robot assistance; 2: task autonomy; 3: conditional autonomy; 4: high autonomy; 5: full autonomy). 

Respondents may address multiple topics in their response. Each group is requested to submit only one response. 

Response to this RFI is voluntary. Responses to this RFI may be viewed by Government and support contractors. The Government will review responses for market research purposes only. The Government will not provide reimbursement for any costs incurred in responding to this RFI. ARPA-H is not seeking proposals or applications for financial assistance in response to this RFI, and submissions cannot be accepted to form binding legal agreements of any type. 

Any information obtained from this RFI is intended to be used by the Government on a non-attribution basis for planning and strategy development. ARPA-H will not respond to individual submissions. A response to this RFI will not be viewed as a binding commitment to develop or pursue the project or ideas discussed. Comments submitted in response to this notice are subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Any proprietary information shall be clearly marked in the document.