Coffee Share 200118: robotic hands

This is a Weekly Coffee Share Essay.
I’m part of a small group of bloggers who stay in touch and chat about blogging, writing, travel, photography, children, pets, work, life hacks or just about anything else that might be of interest. Here’s mine for the week ending Jan. 11, 2020.
Link to This week’s full list
Link to my Story Blog. Come share a laugh with me.

Okay, I’ve had a weird week and have looked forward to writing and telling you about it.  If we were sitting down to share a good cup of coffee, it would still be tea for me as coffee is starting to not sit well in the tum. But tea – ah – I could, and often do, drink it all day long.

I would first confess to being something of a technology nerd, but for me, there has to be a practical, material use or value.  But I’m not your common nerd in that I’m not much of a computer gamer.  The last computer game I really got into goes back to the early 1990s and I can’t even recall the name of the thing, but if the game actually teaches or accomplishes something of value other than simple entertainment, it might get my attention – for a while because I’m more likely to distract easily to something that focuses on raw technology for some business purpose.

Back when I was newly married, I was working as a computer field engineer and was that guy who went out to repair the machines sold to customers who used them to do business and science stuff.  I was young and had lots to learn but one day my wife came home to find me designing a command language that could control robotic hands.  I just got curious from one of my hospital customers on how we might “program” a mechanical hand to move and work like a wrist, hand and fingers.  She caught me, sitting on the couch, paper tablet on my lap, holding my hand up trying to isolate all the different types of motion I would need to have in my command language to describe and meaningfully control a wrist, fingers and thumb.

hand upGo ahead.  Hold up one hand and count the number of types of motion needed if you had to tell a robot how to twist and bend to position itself to pick up a pencil, then adjust to begin to sign its name to a piece of paper, then change to grasp a hammer and correctly pound a nail into piece of wood.  If you try to note each type of motion for multiple joints, strength of grip and speed of motion needed, you’ll quickly visualize the mess my wife found me in – holding up my bare hand, staring at my moving fingers and going through reams of tablet pages as I tried to break the problem down into programmable parts.  Exactly how would one control such motion when it involves up to 5 joints, exact direction and strength while coordinating each motion with the other 4 digits. . .?

I got lucky guys.  My wife still appreciates this type of mental gymnastics and is still with me, in fact we just passed our 40th anniversary.

I never finished the mechanical hand programming problem though because I had no resources or hopes of opportunities to work in such a field.  Besides, all I wanted was to get my brain around how the problem might be solved.  Years later, the good news is that I was close to being right but what was needed and the road blocks that had to be resolved were that the technology needed (both hardware and software) simply did not exist yet – leaving me with still needing to earn enough money to pay our rent somehow.  Okay.  I can do this, but that old programmable hand problem would surface in my brain from time to time and I’d progress my own solution as some new technology or my understanding of some portion possible solutions became clear.

Fast forward to last November (2019) and my doctor is telling me that I need to have my belly button fixed.  Okay, yes, he actually said “umbilical hernia”, but I’m trying to not be such a nerd about this, and this last week, we actually met for him to do the needful.

But get this, he had given me two options.  1) He could do it by hand himself because he is very cleaver with a scalpel or 2) He could do a much better job with smaller incisions by using, YES!, a robot.

So, after collecting enough information to secure my knowledge that I wasn’t signing up to be the “robot’s” guinea pig,  “no – no,” the doc said.  “We use this robot for many types surgeries all the time and it’s now common.”  Well.  okay then, I thought.  It’s now my turn to put up or shut up.  “Sure, let’s use the robot.  I want the better job.”

DaVinchi 1 jpgI told him I wanted to at least “see” the robot, because I’m a nerd about stuff like this and also, I have some mental investment into the whole programmable hand idea.  Of course he agreed and as they wheeled me in, he pointed out the little guy against the far wall waiting for us to get ready for him.

Okay, that’s not so little, I thought.

So, with all this said, I’d like to introduce you to my surgeon’s mechanical assistant, DaVinci.  Yep, that’s what they named this guy.  Now, tell me, honestly, can you think of a scenario where you would want this gadget coming at you?

Note to those who created this lovely tool – guys – this is one scary-looking device and you say it’s going to cut me up somehow. .  ? Seriously!?

Apparently, this is more what it looks like in use.  Not helpful. I thought after looking it up.  Once we were all in the room and DaVinci was warming up his flight jet engines, it was too late to change my mind – which I didn’t want to do, but I lost the contest of staying awake so I could bear some credible testimony to this story.  Instead, I’m going to stick with the thought that sleeping though my encounter with DaVinci was most likely the wiser choice anyway.

DaVinci 2 jpg

I came through my time with DaVinci just fine.  I bet that Device DaVinci isn’t even capable of sneezing in the middle of pulling a scalpel across our tummies.  For actual access to my innards, DaVinci made 3 small holes but they were about 8 inches away from my navel which means all the stuff done, was done from that distance – weird huh?  Interesting?  Absolutely!  Low impact?  Very much so as near as I can tell.  My doctor was quickly ready to throw me out of the hospital as soon as he stopped by to check on me – and no, I was not misbehaving.  Why would you even think that?

I’m home after one over night with the nurses carefully watching my recovery. They still don’t want me picking up heavy objects, but relatively minor pain management protocols are in use and I’m supposed to take it very easy for the next 2 weeks.  This is a pretty mild ride for just having my innards cut into and stuff moved around.  I’m pretty sure that the non-robotic method would have had a much longer recovery with less value for the effort.

My surgeon told me there are likely plenty of DaVinci videos on YouTube, but I’m going to let that path of exploration sit unattended for a while.  For now, I’m happy that the problem I was trying to solve some 40 years ago has apparently been solved by some better brains than mine and their solution just helped me get my belly button fixed up.

Bottom line: Is this cool or what?  Now that DeVinci and I know each other, if the need presented itself, I’d work with him, er, it again and be thankful for all the cleaver technology we have available these days.


Thanks for stopping by for a visit.  If you’ve posted a coffee share essay at Alli’s  meeting spot, I’ll see you there in just a bit.

Thanks Alli, for hosting our get-together.

Blessings all.


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