Computer Vision Pioneer and Surgical Robot Inventor Receive IEEE Medals

The two were recognized for contributions to driverless cars and augmented reality as well as telemedicine

6 April 2017

Two engineers who have made a lasting impact on computer vision and surgical robots are being honored this year with IEEE medals. The annual awards are presented for contributions or leadership in IEEE fields of interest. The medals are scheduled to be presented on 25 May at the IEEE Honors Ceremony, at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.

Life Fellow Takeo Kanade [right], a professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, will receive the 2017 IEEE Founders Medal, sponsored by the IEEE Foundation. He is being recognized “for pioneering and seminal contributions to computer vision and robotics for automotive safety, facial recognition, virtual reality, and medical robotics.”

Kanade has been shaping the field of computer vision since his 1973 Ph.D. thesis on computerized facial recognition. In the mid-1980s he conducted pioneering research in driverless vehicles, incorporating computer vision systems and sensors to detect lane lines and other cars and to control steering and speed automatically. That work led to the NavLab autonomous vehicle, which in 1995 drove itself nearly 5,000 kilometers across the United States.

Kanade developed an image-overlay system that allows surgeons to visualize anatomic structures inside a patient in real-time. It was one of the first systems to demonstrate what is now commonly referred to as medical augmented reality.

He worked with researchers at Western Pennsylvania Hospital’s Institute for Computer-Assisted Orthopedic Surgery, in Pittsburgh, to develop HipNav, a system that allows a surgeon to determine the optimal location for an acetabular implant (socket portion of a hip implant), and guides the surgeon to achieve that placement during surgery.

He developed the EyeVision system, in which a camera operated by one person controls 30 additional remote cameras to capture three-dimensional freeze-frame views of an activity. EyeVision’s debut during the 2001 Super Bowl publicized computer vision and spurred further research in the field.

Kanade helped to found Carnegie Mellon’s Quality of Life Technology Center, which focuses on intelligent systems to help people with disabilities or reduced capabilities due to aging.


Yulun Wang, founder and chair of InTouch Health, a developer of telemedicine technologies, in Goleta, Calif., will receive the 2017 IEEE Medal for Innovations in Healthcare Technology, sponsored by the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. He is being cited for “pioneering contributions to remotely operated surgical robots and telemedicine devices.”

Wang’s pioneering work in remotely operated surgical robots and his development of telemedicine systems have improved the quality of health care around the world, helping patients who otherwise would not have access and lowering the cost of treatment. The surgical robotic tools he has developed enable surgeons to perform procedures with increased dexterity and control compared with conventional handheld instruments, and they have advanced minimally invasive surgery. Surgical robots provide the advantages of increased precision, smaller incisions, decreased blood loss, less pain, and shortened healing time.

Wang invented the automated endoscopic system for optical positioning (AESOP), a voice-controlled robotic arm that can hold and move a laparoscope for a surgeon. It was the first surgical robot approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. He also developed the Zeus robotic surgical system, which performed the world’s first transatlantic surgery, in which a surgeon in New York City controlled the robot during a procedure being performed in a hospital in Strasbourg, France.

To improve patient access to quality treatment and to fight the rising costs of health care, Wang created a remote-presence robotic system to enable a clinician to be in two places at one time to perform medical triage, diagnosis, and consultations remotely. He applied the system to a network in which large hospitals place robots in smaller, remote hospitals to provide doctors there with access to stroke specialists who can examine and help care for patients. Wang’s telemedicine system has been used for intensive care and psychiatric clinical consultations, too.

The surgical robotics and telemedicine innovations that Wang helped develop have benefited several million patients.

Read about other innovators who received IEEE medals, recognitions, and technical field awards this year, and find out how to nominate a colleague for one of IEEE’s top honors.

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