Robots are transforming surgery. The Da Vinci Surgical System, for example, allows long and complicated procedures to be performed with super human precision and dexterity. All while decreasing patient trauma and providing a more comfortable experience for the surgeon.
Costing up to $2.000.000 however, a surgical robot represents large capital investments and only becomes cost effective after intensive use and thus fits into a more "market driven" concept of healthcare that indirectly contributes to the overall rising medical expenditures.
One of the corollaries of expensive professional healthcare is the rise of communities of uninsured Americans who share videos on Youtube to demonstrate how they performed medical hacks on themselves.
Designer Frank Kolkman, a new graduate of the Design Interactions course at the Royal College of Art in London, wondered if a compromise could be found. His OpenSurgery project investigates whether building DIY surgical robots, outside the scope of healthcare regulations, could provide an accessible alternative to the costly professional healthcare services worldwide.
There have been several attempts within the robotics community to come up with cheaper and more portable surgical robots. The RAVEN II Surgical robot, for example, was initially developed with funding from the US military to create a portable telesurgery device for battlefield operations. The machine is valued at $200.000 and all of the software used to control the RAVEN II has been made open source. However, The Raven doesn't have the (often costly) safety and quality control systems in place, required by regulation to allow it to be used on humans meaning that it might take a while before the RAVEN II will be fully embraced by regulatory and commercial worlds. In any case, most medical hacker communities would still be unable to afford its $200.000 price tag.
For the past five months, Kolkman has thus been trying to build a DIY surgical robot for around $5000, by using accessible prototyping techniques like laser cutting and 3d printing and by sourcing as many ready-made parts as he could find.
Designing a surgical robot that could perform laparoscopic surgery (a surgery so minimally invasive that it is also called keyhole surgery) presents a number of challenges. The designer found an answer to each of them:
- the many laporoscopic tools that the robot would have to handle can be ordered directly from their Chinese manufacturers using Alibaba.
The electronics to control the robots were copied from designs used in 3d printer communities, while the software was build with Processing.
The main challenge the designer encountered however was intellectual property. In a bid to make the project open source, Kolkman tried to develop his own mechanisms. Unfortunately, it appeared that most of the fundamental concepts that allow robotic surgery have already been patented. Fortunately, he also found out that as long as you make parts protected by intellectual property in private and for non commercial purposes they are theoretically exempted from patent infringement.
After five months of iteration, the robot does move. The designer concludes:
And based on my experiences the concept of a DIY surgical robot is surprisingly plausible. If you would be able to build a community of makers who bring the same amount of attention and dedication to building surgical tools as they do to designing 3d printers and cnc machines these days, I believe accessible DIY surgery equipment would be within reach.
And of course you still need a trained surgeon to operate the machine.
A bio art exhibition is a rare occurrence. A good bioart exhibition -one that makes you marvel at the art, question the science, ponders upon where all this means for society- is even more extraordinary. So if you're in, near or not ridiculously far away from Eindhoven, do go and visit Matter of Life. Growing new Bio Art & Design at MU. There's only a couple of weeks left to see the show but if i were you, i'd try and pop by on the 1st of March for the Matter of Life closing party. The subtitle of the event is Food Phreaking which sounds exciting enough.
MU and guest curator William Myers have selected nine projects 'at the intersection of life sciences, art and design.' Three of them are the winning projects of the Bio Art & Design Award 2014 (previously Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award), a competition for young artists and designers hoping to collaborate with research institutes in order to develop works that use biotechnology in critical and compelling ways. A couple more projects in the show are authored by artists who have worked with the competition in the past. But what matters more to me is that there is a good balance of speculative scenarios and very down-to-earth experiments in this exhibition. One moment you're dipping carrot sticks into a barbecue sauce made from 'supermarket mutants'. Next, you're wondering about the impact that commercial interests might have on natural selection.
Here's a quick overview of the works i haven't written about over the past few weeks. Starting with a work that took me by surprise:
Jarvis first has to undertake a rectoscopy. The colon tissue collected will be grown in vitro and then submitted to a series of mutations that will make it cancerous.
The project is about being able to look at cancer as we would look at other parts of ourselves. I am interested in actually seeing cancer 'in the flesh' - in making tangible something that is usually discussed in metaphors and in doing this exploring (evaluating?) the function of these metaphors when faced with the actual material.
ET IN ARCADIA EGO also echoes one of Jarvis' previous works ERGO SUM in which she used stem cell technology to create a kind of 'back-up' self. While ERGO SUM explored how personalised medicine might enable us to extend our lives, the new work is using similar technology to explore the mechanisms of mortality.
The sample will also be used in professor Hans Clevers' scientific research to study how cancer occurs in the body. The cells are of particular interest to him as they are the first he will have access to coming from a healthy patient sample.
Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Invisible
Heather Dewey-Hagborg's most famous work, Stranger Visions, made her realize that genetic surveillance is a real threat. "It just struck me that we were having a national dialogue about electronic surveillance, but this form of biological surveillance isn't being discussed," she told The Verge.
Invisble, which she is showing as part of Matter of Life, claims to be the answer to any fear of DNA profiling we might have. Citizens eager to avoid DNA surveillance can either buy the Invisible sprays or follow the recipe and make their own. To become genetically untraceable, you need to first spray Erase to any surface where you might have left some DNA evidence. You then follow with Replace, a spray containing a blend of genes that will 'confuse' any remaining trace of DNA.
Špela Petrič worked with the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research to build a windmill-like structure that serves as a habitat for sea life. Once released into the North Sea, the tetrahedron form would gently drift in unpredictable path, collecting sea plants, bivalves and other small creatures along the way. At some point though, the weight of the organisms accumulated will sink the whole colony.
The research, design and building of this work in the context of a research institute investigating aquaculture also challenges us with a question the artist poses "can the human fathom an investment into structures and processes that are non-utilitarian for the human?"
Naval Gazing was one of the winning projects of the BioArt & Design award. I think it was by far the strongest of the three. Unexpected, strangely alluring and challenging the audience to think differently about our relationship to nature.
The use of homing pigeons as messengers can be traced to thousands of years ago. Ancient Romans used them to spread news within their Empire. And the Greeks sent pigeons to communicate the results of the Olympic Games to other cities. Studio PSK, another winner of the Bio Art & Design Award, teamed up with the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies at the University of Groningen to explore how economic pressures might one day shape the species' genetics, replacing thus natural selection. In PSK scenario, the bird becomes a tamper-proof biological courier used by biotech companies to protect their intellectual property.
Increasing competition between the Biotech and Pharma giants has sparked the 'Cold War' of the drug industry, with Genetic theft and piracy costing the industry billions, pressurising companies to take ever more inventive steps to protect their intellectual property.
In order to protect the most sensitive data from falling into the hands of competitors, Genicom Lifesciences, one of the smaller enterprises based in Hyderabad's Genome Valley, is using pigeons as a kind of 'offline data transfer' in an attempt to securely deliver genetic data to its research partner Nayat Pharma.
As the title of their work suggests, Julia Kaisinger and Katharina Unger have explored how to grow food from toxic plastic waste. The process involves fungi. The result in the plate is even more discouraging than anything i might have imagined.
Also part of the exhibition: Cobalt 60 Sauce, a barbecue sauce made from 'supermarket mutants' and FATBERG: Building An Island of Fat and A Simple Line. A zebra finch ponders upon abstraction.
Matter of Life. Growing new Bio Art & Design is at MU in Eindhoven until 1 March 2015.
Panamarenko, the artist and inventor who builds zeppelins, mechanical chickens, flying backpacks, flying saucers, robots, submarines and other machines designed to travel over land, under water and in outer space, is having a big and rather wonderful retrospective at the M HKA, in his home town of Antwerp.
As its name suggests, Panamarenko Universum attempts to cover the full spectrum of his artistic production and mental landscape. Along with many of the vehicles and devices Panamarenko has created between 1965 and 2005, M HKA is also exhibiting drawings, objects, documentations of tv interviews, scientific experiments and performances, models and editions.
It's difficult not to be seduced by Panamarenko's childlike enthusiasm for movement and science, by his inventiveness and by machines which are successful as artworks but often hopeless as vehicles for ocean and space expeditions.
Some of the works i (re)discovered in Antwerp:
A one-man aircraft which construction is based on the flapping movements of birds.
An advanced deep-sea diving apparatus engineered to dive faster. It consisted of a shaft attached to a screw-propeller and two pedals with belts. The device was strapped around the diver's hips, leaving the arms and torso completely free.
'You just have to peddle away with your legs, and it's just like you have a tail. That moved you forward fast, much faster than a swimmer...' - Panamarenko
Panamarenko testing one of his diving contraptions:
A diving suit for walking over the gentle slopes of the seabed. The diving suit has a plastic dome helmet and a small cylinder pump, ten centimetres in diameter, to be worn on the back. The helmet is supplied with oxygen by a cylinder with a piston that goes up and down, a four-litre bladder that serves as an extra lung, and a flexible hose that floats on the water surface.
In the 1970s, to create devices that take off vertically, Panamarenko concentrated his research on rotation speed and lifting power. The artist developed a series of compact but powerful Pastille Motors to power his rucksack helicopters. The name Pastille Motor refers to the round, flat shape reminiscent of a large aspirin. The engine must not weigh more than twelve kg, while five kilos of fuel should be sufficient for twenty minutes' flying.
The propulsion for the Pepto Bismo is powered by short rotor-propellers, each driven by its own motor. The helicopter principal allows the pilot to take-off vertically, controlling the apparatus by body movement.
Panamarenko built flying saucers and other spacecraft, he also researched into the various possibilities of using existing magnetic fields as cosmic highways to travel the solar system. In 1997 his fascination for the cosmos resulted in the final project Ferro Lusto that he describes as a spaceship of 800 meters in length and fit for a crew of 4000. Ferro Lusto would act as the mother ship that carres various smaller crafts, which he calls Bings.
Panamarenko developed Bing of the Ferro Lusto and Bing II as hybrid machines suitable for flying through both the atmosphere and outer space. Bing II was powered using air and has three 4D booster engines developed on the basis of the Toymodel of Space theory. The engine consists of two cylinders set in parallel in a metal block. Four pistons make alternate upward and sideways movements. The drive power develops on the basis of the difference in speed and mass in contrast with the direction of movement of the earth and solar system, boosted by centrifugal force. '
Panamarenko built The Aeromodeller between 1969 and 1971. The basketwork gondola was designed as a living space. Two aircraft engines on top of it are used to steer the imposing airship, which is held aloft by a cigar-shaped balloon, thirty metres long.
Panamarenko designed this machine on insect-like aluminium legs, to enable him to walk around the Swiss mountains more easily. Crooked Leg is powered by a boat engine and is operated using two vertical levers on either side of the device.
The Magnetic Shoes are made with military boots from the former East Block and copper stator coils taken apart from electric motors. He would weld the coils' magnets to a rod and then trapped an electrical charge. The result was amazing! If you then touched a piece of metal to it, you couldn't get it off no matter how hard you pulled! In a green rucksack (where military personnel would keep their walkie-talkies) are the lead batteries to provide the current. By alternatingly turning the current in the magnets on and off, I could hang upside down from a ceiling and walk around. I thought: well, that's a start... a little bit like flying...
It flows throughout our bodies and yet some of us faint when they see a drop of it. It is a key features in stories of vampires and children fairytales. It is the fluid that is most closely associated to life but also to the Ebola virus, diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and other life-threatening conditions.
The 25 artworks that make the exhibition BLOOD (Not for the faint-hearted) aptly reflect the complex space that blood occupies in our cultures. From the vampire killing kit to the video of stem-cell extractions, from the luminol dripped down onto a sculpture made of blood and resin to Hermann Nitsch's cathartic Theatre of Orgies and Mysteries, all grounds seem to be covered: history, pure science, crime, medicine, literary fiction, ethics and taboo.
A couple of works in the show might be upsetting for some and indeed the gallery recommends it to the 15+. Strangely enough, i had no problem visiting the show but writing about it makes me far more uncomfortable. I could not even watch the video of Maria Phelan's work MYTYPE.
One of the works that opens the show is a documentation of Que le cheval vive en moi! (May the horse live in me!), a performance in which Marion Laval-Jeantet was injected with horse blood plasma. This bold self-experiment continues the artistic duo's exploration of trans-species relationships.
In the months preceding the performance, Marion Laval-Jeantet built up her tolerance to the foreign animal bodies by being injected with horse anibodies. The artists called the process "mithridatization", after Mithridates VI of Pontus who cultivated an immunity to poisons by regularly ingesting sub-lethal doses of the same. Once her body was ready, she was injected with horse blood plasma containing the entire spectrum of foreign antibodies, without falling into anaphylactic shock, an acute multi-system allergic reaction.
In this Science Gallery interview below, Benoit Mangin explains how Marion was able to hide the eyes of the horse. A horse would normally react very violently to having his eyes covered but somehow, the animal didn't perceive her as being an entirely different organism.
Nearby, lies the apparatus used by surgeon Robert McDonnell on a fourteen year old girl whose arm was torn and lacerated while she was working in a paper mill. Robert drew 350 millilitres of blood from his own arm and syringed it back into Mary Anne. The girl's condition improved for a short time, but she died the day after. It was the first human-to-human blood transfusion performed in Ireland.
John O'Shea is showing a video recipe of his renowned delicacy, the Black Market Pudding. Just like we get milk from cows and eggs from chicken without the need to kill them, we could also get fresh blood from pigs and make black pudding, a type of blood sausage commonly eaten in Britain and Ireland.
The blood is extracted from living pigs via a routine veterinary procedure and the whole business model ensures that the pig grows old peacefully. Kind of. And because vegetarian suet is used to emulsify the ingredients, the black market pudding is branded as being an ethical animal product.
Quinn is participating to the show with a wax model of his baby son. The sculpture is made of wax mixed with animal blood and protein his son is intolerant to. The work is thus both tender and savage. It evokes the love for a child and the cruelty of appropriating the blood of a non-human animal.
Professor Peter Arnds is showing a fascinating collection of German children's books in which children come to harm and blood is shed, posters that detail the Nazis' obsession with blood and its purity, and a short video on the Nazis' ideology of blood.
It turns out that children's literature and folktales are quite at ease with the depiction of murder, cannibalism and other violent scenes. In Germany and elsewhere. One example of this is Charles Perrault's version of Little Red Riding Hood from 1697or the Grimm Brothers' original fairytales.
There is a lot of humour in the gallery as well. STAINS™ is a fake company that challenges the hypocrisy of marketers trying to sell female menstrual products while showing blue liquids and pretty girls laughing in the sunshine.
Visitors to the exhibition are invited to take a selfie with one of the blood stain broaches made by STAINS™ and share the photo via the Twitter with the hashtag #periodpositive. You can also buy the blood stains as earrings or pendant.
More images from the show:
The exhibition was curated by curator and media studies scholar Jens Hauser, haematologist Prof Shaun McCann, Immunologist Prof Luke O'Neill, literary and cultural scholar Prof Clemens Ruthner and Science Gallery Dublin director Lynn Scarff. It remains open at the Science Gallery Dublin until tomorrow, Friday 23rd of January.
For over 60 years, scientists have been deliberately exposing plants and seeds to radiation in order to mix up their genetic material and speed up mutations. The results are unpredictable and only the mutated plants that show useful or otherwise desirable attributes (stronger, tastier, bigger, more resistant to disease, etc.) are reproduced, creating a mutant variety from the original one.
The technology is called radiation breeding. It emerged in the early 1950s, as part of Atoms for Peace, a program to develop "peaceful" uses of fission energy after WWII. So-called Gamma gardens were planted in laboratories in the US, parts of the former USSR, India, Japan and even in GMO-phobic Europe. A number of plant varieties were commercialized and some of their offspring can now be found in your local supermarket.
The Center for Genomic Gastronomy, an art think tank that investigates food controversies and prototypes 'alternative culinary futures', was concerned by the lack of research on radiation-bred edible plants and their possible impact on our health and on the environment. CGG founders Zack Denfeld & Cat Kramer worked with Heather Julius to create a barbecue sauce that contains some of the most common radiation-bred ingredients: Rio Red Grapefruit, Milns Golden Promise Barley, Todd's Mitcham Peppermint, Calrose 76 Rice and Soy.
The peppermint is a mutation of Mentha piperita, it is able to resist a particularly nasty fungal disease and can be found in chewing-gum, candies and toothpaste. The modified barley is used to make beer and whiskey. As for the grapefruit, it was developed to produce the deepest red. Hundreds of mutation-bred varieties of soy and rice have been registered in the International Atomic Energy Agency database. Now the name of the sauce is a reference to Cobalt-60, the radioactive source gamma gardens are submitted to.
Cobalt 60 Sauce is part of the exhibition Matter Of Life: Growing new Bio Art and Design at MU in Eindhoven. A big sauce dispenser is at the disposal of visitor who'd like to taste the recipe. It's very dark, very yummy and a bit sweet.
Matter of Life | Growing Bio Art & Design exhibition at MU, Strijp S, in Eindhoven. The show remains open until 22nd February 2015.
One of the thing that surprised me when i moved from Belgium to Italy all those years ago is that i suddenly found myself in a culture where the weather wasn't part of the conversation. The sky never changed much. Every day was mostly sunny and fairly dry. This is less the case nowadays. I'm living in London where the Summer has been boiling hot. Meanwhile, Northern Italy has been showered by torrential rains. The weather has decidedly taken a turn for the weirder.
Newspapers publish alarming and disconcerting articles about climate change and 'extreme' meteorological phenomena on a daily basis. It seems that no matter how much we cycle to work and recycle our trash, this is too little too late (becoming a vegetarian would have a bigger impact anyway.) Climate change is a phenomenon so complex and grim that most people feel powerless and inadequate even taking about it..
The exhibition Strange Weather: Forecasts from the Future at the Science Gallery in Dublin gives a more human dimension to the issue. The show features 26 artworks that, each in their own way, act as springboards for new discussions and debates about the eccentricities of the weather.
The show goes from the very absurd (the Halliburton survivaball) to the very dark and dramatic. But the adjective that pervades the show is 'fun'. While visiting the exhibition, i've been drinking cloud, watched a 1959 film that speculates on how weather control departments would use satellites and met with little child mannequins in Hazmat suits in the most unexpected places.
Strange Weather is one of those rare shows that's never dull, never obscure, never preaching. A quick video walk-through of the exhibition will prove my point:
Given my enthusiasm for the exhibition, there's a lot i'd like to blog: all the ideas, all the works i've discovered. Being notoriously lazy, i'm going to bide my time and slowly publish stories about Strange Weather. Here's a first batch of artworks which explore clouds in the most poetical and critical ways:
Karolina Sobecka climbed to the Sally Gap in the Dublin Mountains to harvest clouds, decant them into little tubes and invited gallery visitors to consume them.
The artist built her own Cloud Collector, a device that is sent into the atmosphere attached to a weather balloon. Clouds condense on its mesh wings and flow into a sample container. These cloud samples are analysed for microorganisms and ingested by experimental volunteers. By combining the cloud microbiome with their own, the volunteers become part cloud and keep a cloud journal reporting their transformation.
Thinking Like a Cloud owes a lot to Aldo Leopold's land ethics motto 'thinking like a mountain'. It describes an ability to appreciate the deeps interconnectedness of all the elements in the ecosystems. By ingesting clouds, clouds become part of you and you become part of the atmosphere yourself.
I was strangely moved by Studio PSK's proposal for the ash dispersal of your loved ones. I don't care whether it is speculative or art or whatever, i want this project to be real.
I Wish to Be Rain suggests that after their death, people could literally become part of the weather by having their ashes used for cloud seeding, the dispersing substances into the air to trigger rain.
Following a funeral and cremation of a body, the crematorium will give the bereaved an aluminium vessel that contains their loved ones remains and a dormant aerostat. When the family are ready, the encapsulated ashes are sent skywards tethered to a weather balloon, to be dispersed in the macroscopic structure of a cloud. The capsule becomes increasingly pressurised. At the point it reaches the troposphere, the highest point at which clouds form, the capsule bursts, dispersing the ashes into the clouds below. When dispersed into the clouds, the remains get enveloped into a macroscopic structure far beyond the most grandiose human experience. But this is short lived, again they enter the domain of the miniature, falling back to earth as raindrops, before eventually finding their way back into the sea.
One thing i noted when i spoke to people who live or used to live in Dublin is that they all have something to say about the fluctuating prices of the houses in the city. Matt Kenyon's Cloud therefore feeds into two concerns: real estate and weather. The artist turned the last 10 year of housing market into a stream of small house-shaped clouds that fly to the ceiling of the gallery, stick there for a while, lose stamina (and metaphorically value) and then fall down to the floor.
The viewers witness common house-ownership dreams disappear as fast as they materializes -- just as many saw the false promises of their homes disappear as they were quickly foreclosed upon during this period.
Strange Weather: Forecasts from the future was curated by artists Zack Denfeld, Cat Kramer and meteorologist Gerald Fleming. The show is open at the Science Gallery in Dublin until 5 October 2014.