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Deep learning robotic guidance for autonomous vascular access


Medical robots have demonstrated the ability to manipulate percutaneous instruments into soft tissue anatomy while working beyond the limits of human perception and dexterity. Robotic technologies further offer the promise of autonomy in carrying out critical tasks with minimal supervision when resources are limited. Here, we present a portable robotic device capable of introducing needles and catheters into deformable tissues such as blood vessels to draw blood or deliver fluids autonomously. Robotic cannulation is driven by predictions from a series of deep convolutional neural networks that encode spatiotemporal information from multimodal image sequences to guide real-time servoing. We demonstrate, through imaging and robotic tracking studies in volunteers, the ability of the device to segment, classify, localize and track peripheral vessels in the presence of anatomical variability and motion. We then evaluate robotic performance in phantom and animal models of difficult vascular access and show that the device can improve success rates and procedure times compared to manual cannulations by trained operators, particularly in challenging physiological conditions. These results suggest the potential for autonomous systems to outperform humans on complex visuomotor tasks, and demonstrate a step in the translation of such capabilities into clinical use.

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Fig. 1: Autonomous image-guided robotic vascular access, blood drawing and fluid delivery.
Fig. 2: Bimodal vessel imaging and analysis with deep convolutional neural networks.
Fig. 3: Comparison of deep learning and expert assessment of upper-extremity forearm vessels.
Fig. 4: Real-time robotic tracking and motion compensation.
Fig. 5: Autonomous cannulation in tissue-mimicking models over a broad demographic spectrum.
Fig. 6: In vivo autonomous blood drawing and fluid delivery in submillimetre vessels of rats.

Data availability

Test datasets for evaluating source code are available at Public data used in the study are available in the SPLab Ultrasound Image Database ( and, the PICMUS Database ( and the SPLab Tecnocampus Hand Image Database (

Code availability

Source code are available from the Github repository: Use of the code is subject to a limited right to use for academic, governmental or not-for-profit research. Use of the code for commercial or clinical purposes is prohibited in the absence of a Commercial License Agreement from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. References to open-source software used in the study are provided within the paper.


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We thank J. Leiphemer and N. DeMaio for their assistance and support in designing and implementing the device, E. Pantin and A. Davidovich for support in the human imaging studies and phantom studies, including review of imaging data and overall clinical guidance, E. Yurkow, D. Adler, M. Lo and G. Yarmush for assistance in the animal studies, and B. Lee for code used in our deep learning approach. Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health under awards R01-EB020036 and T32-GM008339. This work was also supported by a National Institutes of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein Fellowship F31-EB018191 awarded to A.I.C. and a National Science Foundation Fellowship DGE-0937373 awarded to M.L.B. The authors acknowledge additional support from the Rutgers University School of Engineering, Rutgers University Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

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A.I.C. and M.L.B. designed the system, developed the algorithms and annotation software, and implemented the software and hardware. A.I.C. led execution of the imaging, in vitro and in vivo studies and analysed the primary data. M.L.Y. and T.J.M. provided the general direction for the project and provided valuable comments on the system design and manuscript. Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to A.I.C.

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Correspondence to Alvin I. Chen.

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Chen, A.I., Balter, M.L., Maguire, T.J. et al. Deep learning robotic guidance for autonomous vascular access. Nat Mach Intell 2, 104–115 (2020).

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