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2021-2022 AccelNet Surgical Robotics Challenge (online)

Automating surgical subtasks is an oft-mentioned research target for robot-assisted surgery. Certain subtasks, such as suturing and resection, have been automated on test bench setups. Yet current works are often limited in scope (i.e., based on very simplistic setups) and lack a standardized setup to reproduce results. In this challenge, we provide a simulation platform for participants to develop algorithms to address various questions in surgical subtask automation. The simulator contains two seven degrees-of-freedom (DOF) instrument arms based on the da Vinci Surgical System large needle driver, a controllable camera based on the da Vinci Endoscopic Camera Manipulator (ECM), a suturing phantom, and a needle with suture.

The philosophy of this challenge is to provide competitors with the tools to generate any required data (e.g., for training neural networks), rather than providing common datasets. We encourage contributions back to the repository, which can be made during or after the challenge. For example, one useful contribution would be a script file that facilitates the collection of ground-truth data for training a neural network.


12/14/2021: Announcing the GitHub Discussions forum for questions and comments. See the Community page for more information.

01/26/2022: Deadline extended from Feb 1, 2022 to May 1, 2022 and added registration form (see below). One motivation is to enable student projects organized around the challenge for the Spring 2022 semester.

03/16/2022: Additional details in System Setup; clarification about target entry and exit points for Challenge 2 and Challenge 3; cash prize total is $3000.

04/06/2022: Added example script files (see System Setup); updated scripts in Surgical Robotics Challenge Assets to use new CRTK convention for measured_cp (geometry_msgs/PoseStamped instead of geometry_msgs/TransformStamped); added information about simulation units (1 mm = 0.01 SU, 1 SU = 100 mm = 0.1 m) – see new figure in Challenge 2.

04/16/2022: Updated example script files ( and to demonstrate reporting of Challenge Task completion, and to call method (task_3_setup_init) or publish ROS topic (task_3_setup/init) that initializes needle in grasper for Challenge 3. Also, added information about robot kinematic error in Challenge 2.

04/23/2022: Deadline extended from May 1 to June 6 to avoid conflicts with final exams, ICRA and the US Memorial Day holiday. This is the final deadline extension.

04/26/2022: Changed time limit for Challenge 1 from 10 seconds to 60 seconds.

05/20/2022: Added evaluation script to GitHub repository. This script will be used to evaluate entries submitted to each of the 3 challenges and is provided so that competitors can better test their algorithms prior to submission. Note that this is a beta version of the script and may be updated. See the GitHub Discussions forum for more information.

06/01/2022: Added submission instructions, summarized below, with details here.

06/30/2022: Winners announced – see below.


September 15, 2021: Challenge opens

June 6, 2022: Challenge closes (all Docker containers must be submitted)

June 30, 2022: Challenge results announced


Please register as soon as possible if you wish to submit an entry to the challenge. This will allow us to better plan for the evaluation phase. It will also enable us to inform you about any important updates.

There are no restrictions on who can participate in this challenge. We expect most participants to be part of a team, so it is only necessary for one person to register the team. If you wish, you can add the names of other participants in the “Additional comments” box.

Registration form


Awards will be given for the winning entries in each challenge. The awards will consist of cash prizes and travel grants to a future (in-person) AccelNet Surgical Robotics Challenge.

Intuitive Surgical is sponsoring a cash prize total of $3000, to be distributed between the winning entries for each challenge.


We thank all competitors for participating in the challenge and we are pleased to announce the following results:

Additional details are available here.

System Setup

The challenge is based on the Asynchronous Multi-Body Framework (AMBF) simulator. Participants will be required to install AMBF on a Linux system and download a Docker container. Algorithms should be implemented within a Docker container and submitted for testing. Additional details are provided here.

Submission Instructions

Submissions to the challenge should use this form. The challenge tasks are difficult enough, so our goal is to make the submission process as easy and as flexible as possible. See this page for additional details.

Challenge Tasks

The challenge is partitioned into three tasks summarized below. While these tasks naturally build on each other, it is possible to perform any subset of the tasks. All tasks will use a suturing phantom, a needle with suture, and up to two da Vinci large needle drivers. The view of the scene is provided by a simulated stereo endoscope (1080p, 30fps), with a camera baseline as in a real da Vinci. By default, there is one light attached to the endoscope, but lighting can vary up to twice this amount (i.e., equivalent to two lights attached to the endoscope).

The only requirement is that the developed algorithms perform the tasks autonomously. There is no requirement to use a particular type of machine learning, or even to use machine learning at all. Note that the videos below for Challenges 2 and 3 were created using teleoperation.

All entries will be tested under the same set of test conditions. Descriptions of the test conditions are provided in the detailed pages for each challenge.

Challenge 1: Find the needle

Task: Develop algorithms to identify the pose (position and orientation) of the metallic suture needle, with respect to the current endoscope pose. The video shows two sample endoscope images. [More...].

Challenge 2: Grasp needle and drive through tissue

Task: Move the large needle driver to grasp the needle and then move the needle tip to the target and drive the needle through the tissue until the tip exits. The accuracy of the simulated robot will be comparable to that of a real robot and thus visual feedback would be required to ensure accurate performance. [More...].

Challenge 3: Suture the phantom

Task: Drive the needle through the phantom from the first entry point to the corresponding exit point. The left instrument should pull the needle through the phantom and hand back the needle to the right instrument. This completes one suture. The algorithm should repeat the entry and exit for each pair of points. [More...].


Please use the GitHub Discussions forum for questions and comments. See the Community page for more information.

To contact the organizers by email:


NSF Logo Development of this Surgical Robotics Challenge is supported by the United States National Science Foundation (NSF) via OISE-1927354 and OISE-1927275, AccelNet: International Collaboration to Accelerate Research in Robotic Surgery.