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TIM dabbles in 5G surgery

Italian telco TIM is the latest to showcase 5G’s low-latency feature by enabling a surgeon to remotely get involved in an operation.

Remote surgery has been at the forefront of 5G hype ever since low latency became a thing. Being able to communicate over long distances with virtually no delay between sending and receiving data opens up all sorts of remote control opportunities. Remote surgery is the most graphic and emotive of these because it’s literally a matter of life and death, so it has become the default means of bringing publicity to the technology.

Professor Giorgio Palazzini used a VR visor to allow him to interact live with a surgical team in Terni, Italy, even though he was in Rome. The operating theatre had three video cameras, including a 360-degree 4K one and a laparoscopic one, which allowed the Prof to zoom in on the important bits when he felt the need. All this, we’re told, enabled him to offer real-time advice and guidance, but he didn’t get involved via robotic arms or anything like that.

“This is only the start of a new era of e-learning in all branches of medicine,” said Palazzini. “But its short-term future will be remote surgery, made possible by robots and 5G with virtually no latency. That means being able to operate on patients in any hospital that has 5G connectivity and robots, and real-time sharing of data-intensive diagnostic exams such as CT and MRI.”

“Today we have taken an important step forward in the world of surgery, made possible by bringing together the technological and healthcare capabilities of the future,” said Elisabetta Romano, TIM’s Chief Innovation & Partnership Officer. “New opportunities are arising for the sector to benefit from innovative solutions that serve both patients and the entire scientific community.

“TIM’s innovative 5G Digital Business Platform, combined with the specific characteristics of 5G, as well as robotics, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Medical Things, are opening up some exciting but challenging scenarios. It is TIM’s goal to play its part in driving the growth of Italy and the company aims to extend the cutting-edge knowledge and techniques available in this area to as many people as possible.”

While the technology may exist to enable robo-surgery, there is likely to be a significant regulatory, legal and cultural lag before it becomes a regular fixure in the field. In that sense it has a fair bit in common with fully autonomous driving and it will probably take a while before people are relaxed about there being no human being physically present in high risk environments like roads and operating theatres.

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