In a medical setting, her work could benefit millions of Americans who live hours away from a major hospital. According the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 60 million Americans live in rural communities, and they face a greater risk of death from stroke, heart disease, cancer and emphysema compared to city dwellers.

Breakthroughs in robotics offer hope of delivering the best treatments and timely care to these underserved communities. Across the United States, surgeons are increasingly working with robotic assistants, and it’s possible surgeries performed remotely could become more widespread in the future. Because robots wield surgical tools more precisely than humans, that makes many operations less invasive. For patients, that’s less trauma and a quicker recovery.

Alemzadeh will create safety monitoring tools programmed into robotic surgery units, designed to support a surgeon’s decision-making while operating on a patient. That means a system that immediately spots and fixes anything that could harm a patient, like a surgeon’s mistake, a software glitch or a mechanical malfunction.

“We hope to eventually see our system transition to real practice and provide safety assurance in actual procedures, as a longer-term payoff of this grant,” Alemzadeh said.

Cyber-physical systems, control and robotics are a combined research strength of UVA’s Charles L. Brown Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and advance the mission of UVA Engineering’s Link Lab, where Alemzadeh is affiliated. She also holds a courtesy appointment in UVA Engineering’s Department of Computer Science.

Alemzadeh’s research group members, Kay Hutchinson and Zongyu Li – students pursuing doctorates in electrical engineering – have spent the past year defining and analyzing surgical movements, like the rhythm of a doctor stitching an incision, to understand the patterns. Once the robot software understands the patterns, it can alert a doctor if something seems awry.