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article imageSofter robotic arm for endoscopic surgery

By Tim Sandle     Aug 30, 2017 in Health
Endoscopy is not the most pleasant of procedures. To make the process faster and less discomforting for the patient, medical technologists have devised a smaller, smarter, softer robotic arm.
The bioinspired approach to a standard medical exam combines pop-up fabrication with soft robotics and it has come from researchers based at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The development will lead to a new start-up company to allow for the product's commercialization, and it presents an example of the types of innovations that can be introduced into healthcare.
The new robot is designed for endoscopy, the medical procedure that involves looking inside the body for medical reasons using an endoscope (which itself allows for an examination the interior of a hollow organ or cavity of the body). The procedure is used to investigate unusual symptoms and to medics to help perform certain types of surgery.
SEM images of the hybrid soft pop-up actuators. The image has been colored in post processing to dif...
SEM images of the hybrid soft pop-up actuators. The image has been colored in post processing to differentiate between the soft (in yellow) and the rigid structure (in blue).
Wyss Institute at Harvard University
Because endoscopes are rigid constructs they offer surgeons reduced dexterity and sensing; this limits the current therapeutic capabilities of the endoscope. It can also make the experience uncomfortable to patients. The new device, however, overcomes this. The robot is a hybrid rigid-soft mechanized arm designed for endoscopes. The robotic device comes with integrated sensing, flexibility, and multiple degrees of freedom. Key to achieving this was the integration of soft fluidic microactuators (powered by water) into the rigid pop-up structures of the endoscope. This allowed the technologists to create soft pop-up mechanisms that increased the performance of the actuators in terms of the force output and the predictability and controllability of the motion of the device.
According to the lead researcher, Dr. Tommaso Ranzani: "At the millimeter scale, a soft device becomes so soft that it can't damage tissue but it also can't manipulate the tissue in any meaningful way." Long-term the medical technologist wants to use the robot for tighter endoscopic procedures, such as investigating the lungs or the brain.
The medical robot has been described in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies, with the research paper titled "An Additive Millimeter-Scale Fabrication Method for Soft Biocompatible Actuators and Sensors."
More about Robots, endoscopy, robot arm, Medical
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