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Sophisticated robot drives innovation across musculoskeletal care

23 September 2022
New robot for orthopaedic and biomedical engineering research
A $400,000 robot which could significantly improve hip and knee replacements is now operational at the Kolling Institute, a joint venture between the Northern Sydney Local Health District and the University of Sydney.
Orthopaedic Biomechanics Robotic Arm

KOBRA or the Kolling Orthopaedic Biomechanics Robotic Arm.

A $400,000 robot which may hold the key to significant improvements in hip and knee replacements is now operational at the Kolling Institute, a joint venture between the Northern Sydney Local Health District and the University of Sydney.

Known as KOBRA or the Kolling Orthopaedic Biomechanics Robotic Arm, the new technology delivers an advanced testing facility, while greatly increasing research capabilities.

It is the largest of its kind in Australia and one of just two SimVitro robots in the country.

Associate Professor Elizabeth Clarke, from the University of Sydney and Director of the Kolling Institute’s Murray Maxwell Biomechanics Laboratory has welcomed its installation, saying it represents a significant step forward for orthopaedic and biomedical engineering research and the development of medical technology.

“KOBRA will be used to simulate complex human movements on joints. This is a new way of testing joints and very few other machines have this capability where they can test any joint in the body through a broad range of life-like manoeuvres,” she said.

“This robot is unique as it can test complex movements such as hip flexing, squatting, walking and throwing, activities which involve compression and twisting. Essentially, it is able to copy human movements, giving researchers a clearer picture of how joints will perform in various situations.”

KOBRA will be used to simulate complex human movements on joints. This is a new way of testing joints and very few other machines have this capability where they can test any joint in the body through a broad range of life-like manoeuvres.
Elizabeth Clarke, Director of the Kolling Institute’s Murray Maxwell Biomechanics Laboratory

Researchers anticipate the information and data provided by the new robotic technology will be applied across disciplines, extending research capabilities and leading to new surgical techniques.

“We expect to utilise the robot in the testing of implants, particularly for hip and knee replacements, to gauge how the implants will function and to help ensure the movement is as life-like as possible,” Associate Professor Clarke said.

“We also anticipate the robot will be used to help validate computer models which assist surgeons in the placement of implants. These sophisticated models are increasingly being used to ensure the best implant alignment for each patient.”

The orthopaedic biomechanics robot is not only expected to advance hip and knee replacements, but is also likely to assist surgeons working to repair chronic shoulder instability. Large numbers of patients are presenting with this injury and the information provided by the robot will help to improve the quality of research and optimise surgical approaches

Professor Bill Walter, Royal North Shore Hospital orthopaedic surgeon and Professor of Orthopaedics and Traumatic Surgery at the University of Sydney has witnessed advances in surgical techniques over many years. 

associate professor elizabeth clarke and professor bill walter standing in front of the robot

Associate Professor Elizabeth Clarke and Professor Bill Walter standing in front of the robot KOBRA.

He said the next improvements will be delivered through new technologies provided by robots like KOBRA.

“We have seen that previous innovations have come through new materials and design. The next innovations however, in joint replacement surgery in particular will be delivered through improved biomechanics of the artificial joints.

“It is a very exciting time for musculoskeletal research and surgery and it’s tremendously encouraging to see this world-leading technology coming to the Kolling Institute. It will assist researchers, engineers and surgeons, and ultimately lead to improved surgical techniques, better physical function and good long-term health outcomes for our community.”

The robot is set to lead to new collaborations with industry and other health partners, and will contribute to our national implant testing capabilities.

KOBRA has been made possible following a collaboration between the University of Sydney, the Northern Sydney Local Health District, the Kolling Institute, the NSW Investment Boosting Business Innovation program and the Royal North Shore Hospital Staff Specialist Trust Fund.

Michelle Blowes

Media and PR Adviser (Medicine and Health)

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