The Next Step in Minimally Invasive Surgery

Incorporating wireless communication and networking technology into biomedical systems

In contrast to open-procedure surgery, minimally invasive surgery (MIS) provides many benefits to patients, reducing pain, hemorrhaging, and scars by using small incisions in the body to insert special laparoscopic tools such as camera devices, light sources, and surgical instruments that help perform the operation. Dr. Richard D. Gitlin, State of Florida 21st Century Scholar, Distinguished University Professor and Agere Chair of Electrical Engineering at University of South Florida, is leading an interdisciplinary team that is pioneering a new paradigm for MIS that results in faster, safer, and less expensive procedures. The first step in this transformation is being realized by developing a wirelessly controlled Miniature and Anchored Remote Videoscope for Expedited Laparoscopy (MARVEL)---a high-definition embedded wireless robotic camera. Such a high-definition robotic camera, with an embedded array of light emitting diodes [LEDs] for illumination, with pan, tilt, and zoom capabilities inside the body via remote wireless control, will open a new era in MIS that addresses current medical limitations in laparoscopy ---and, in fact, can replace the very costly laparoscope! The long-range goal of the MARVEL system, of which the MARVEL camera is the first component, is to provide a network of wirelessly controlled mobile devices (such as imaging devices, surgical tools, post-operative sensors, and power supplies) that will be inserted into the surgical cavity through a single incision and will provide a new platform for MIS.

Prior to joining academia, Dr. Gitlin had a distinguished career at AT&T Bell Labs where he was co-inventor of DSL and has built an extensive startup experience by helping to create GlobeSpan (a DSL company spun out of AT&T that had an IPO) and later serving as CTO of Hammerhead Systems (a Silicon Valley networking startup that raised more than $100M). Dr. Gitlin is now partnering with his medical and start-up colleagues to co-found another company, Innovatia Medical Systems, to commercialize the technology developed by the MARVEL research team. The MARVEL system is a distributed network of wirelessly controllable devices, such as imaging devices (i.e., the MARVEL camera), batteries, and surgical tools, which are adaptively assembled by the surgeon. This ability to wirelessly select and control these devices with a joystick or a computer console gives surgeons unimpeded access to the surgical site. Moreover, the camera developed for MARVEL has an embedded light source, leaving more surgical ports for instruments instead of a separate light source. Currently at 30mm in diameter as a research model, the camera will need to be shrunk to only 10mm in diameter for human applications.

MARVEL will make MIS surgery faster, safer, and less expensive. The MARVEL camera(s) provides a safer environment since the wider field of view of the operative site will minimize accidental damage to arteries and other organs. MARVEL will also increase the number of surgeries with local anesthesia, where patients are able to breathe instead of machines breathing for them, saving ~$2K in anesthesia drugs and making MIS faster and more cost effective.

Current areas of focus:

  • Robotic Cameras and Capabilities: To optimize the design of a high-definition, wirelessly controllable (by an external joystick) imaging device (camera) with high-speed wireless digital communications, Dr. Gitlin and the team have performed many simulations and several animal experiments led by the surgical team. Currently at 30mm in diameter, Dr. Gitlin’s camera, which is to be inserted through the belly button for minimal scar, must be miniaturized and shrunk to 10mm in diameter for human applications. Such a device will provide a wider field of view, zoom in on the operative site, and increased visibility will prevent accidental damage to arteries and other organs (making MIS faster and safer), and will lower costs by eliminating the need for an expensive laparoscope and general anesthesia.
  • Characterization of the Media: In order to make devices that can efficiently wirelessly communicate and be networked, whether a camera, power supply, or surgical tools, to wirelessly move around inside the body, Dr. Gitlin and his team are researching the electrical and communications properties of the (internal) human body. Dr. Gitlin has made significant progress in characterizing in vivo communications networks and developing novel compensation techniques, such as MIMO in vivo, to optimize such systems.
  • Network Reliability: To have sensors, actuators, and a network inside the body means that there must be no single point of failure and an extremely high level of reliability is essential. To realize such networks with devices of modest complexity and power, Dr. Gitlin is researching new technologies for creating ultra-reliable, distributed in vivo networks.


Dr. Gitlin joined the University of South Florida in 2008 after a distinguished career in the private sector, particularly over 30 years spent at Bell Labs, Lucent Technologies. He is currently a State of Florida 21st Century Scholar, Distinguished University Professor, and the Agere Systems Chair in the Electrical Engineering Department. He has more than 45 years of leadership in the communications industry and in academia, and he has a record of significant research contributions that have been sustained and prolific over several decades.

Dr. Gitlin is an elected member of the US National Academy of Engineering (NAE), a Fellow of the IEEE, a Bell Laboratories Fellow, and a Charter Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). He is also a co-recipient of the Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award and the S.O. Rice prize, has co-authored a communications text, published more than 100 papers, including three prize-winning papers, and holds 55 patents.

After receiving his doctorate at Columbia University, he joined Bell Laboratories, where he worked for 32-years performing and leading pioneering research and development in digital communications, broadband networking, and wireless systems, and retired as Senior Vice President for Communications and Networking.  At Bell Labs he conducted and led research and development that has resulted in many innovative products, including: co-invention of DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), invention of multicode CDMA (used in 3G wireless), and he pioneered the use of smart antennas (“MIMO”) for wireless systems (used in 4G wireless and advanced WiFi networks). At Bell Labs he was involved in the creation of a startup company, Globespan, which commercialized DSL technology. Globespan had an IPO and was later acquired by a major device company.

After retiring from Lucent, he was visiting professor of Electrical Engineering at Columbia University, where he supervised several doctoral students and research projects and later he was Chief Technology Officer of Hammerhead Systems, a venture funded networking startup company in Silicon Valley.

Long before his 32-year career at Bell Labs though, Dr. Gitlin grew up in Brooklyn and his interest in science and engineering was influenced by watching NBC’s “Mr. Wizard” and the movie Fantastic Voyage. In his youth, he explored a different New York City neighborhood every Saturday with his father, and visited many phenomenal museums and exhibits, including the Nikon museum and a Lionel Train exhibit in Times Square. It was at this time that he “got very interested in distribution and switching and how you control these things.” Although his uncle who was a surgeon tried to push him into medicine, Dr. Gitlin fainted at the site of blood when allowed to witness an “open” surgery at 14. Nonetheless, Dr. Gitlin entered college at 16 and earned his undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering with honors from the City College of New York, and he went on to receive Master’s and Doctoral degrees at Columbia University and a 32-year career at Bell Labs. He rekindled his interest in biomedical applications when he joined USF [he hasn’t fainted!].

At the University South Florida, his research has focused on the integration of advanced communications technologies and biomedical systems for the wireless networking of miniature wirelessly controlled devices to advance Minimally Invasive Surgery and other cyber-physical health care systems. This research, in collaboration with other members of the Colleges of Engineering and Medicine, Tampa General Hospital and Florida Hospital surgeons, is ongoing. To further accelerate deployment of these technologies, he co-founded Innovatia Medical Systems, an early stage start up company.



Distinguished University Professor-University of South Florida, 2013

Charter Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), 2012

State of Florida 21st Century Scholar, 2008

National Academy of Engineering, 2005

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AT&T Bell Labs Fellow, 1987

IEEE Fellow, 1986


U.S. Patent No. 8,923,773: "Minimally Invasive Networked Surgical System and Method"

December 30, 2014.

U.S. Patent No. 8,908,089: "Implantable Imaging Device"

December 9, 2014.

U.S. Patent No. 8,504,136: "See-through abdomen display for Minimally Invasive Surgery"

August 6, 2013.

U.S. Patent No. 8,416,342: "Implantable Imaging Device"

April 9, 2013.

U.S. Patent No. 8,358,981: "Minimally Invasive Networked Surgical System and Method"

January 22, 2013.