Designing surgical instruments for robotic-assisted minimally-invasive surgery (RAMIS) is challenging due to constraints on the number and type of sensors imposed by considerations such as space or the need for sterilization. A new method for evaluating the usability of virtual teleoperated surgical instruments based on virtual sensors is presented. This method uses virtual prototyping of the surgical instrument with a dual physical interaction, which allows testing of different sensor configurations in a real environment. Moreover, the proposed approach has been applied to the evaluation of prototypes of a two-finger grasper for lump detection by remote pinching. In this example, the usability of a set of five different sensor configurations, with a different number of force sensors, is evaluated in terms of quantitative and qualitative measures in clinical experiments with 23 volunteers. As a result, the smallest number of force sensors needed in the surgical instrument that ensures the usability of the device can be determined. The details of the experimental setup are also included.
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