Surgical Snake Robots: Accessing Organs and Tissues Deep in the Body

By: | April 23rd, 2013

snake-robot

In a recent IndustryTap article “InSightec of Israel . . .” we looked at the next generation non-invasive operating room; clearly the development of minimally invasive technologies to repair and diagnose illnesses is a major trend in engineering and medicine that has been going on for quite some time.

Cutting Edge Presented at Davos World Economi Forum

At Davos, the World Economic Forum, 2,500 business leaders, political leaders, scientists and journalists come together annually to discuss important issues facing the world including health and the environment. Howard Choset of Carnegie Mellon University, a specialist in robotics, presented his work on snake robots to be used in surgery, manufacturing, infrastructure inspection and search and rescue operations. He co-founded Cardiobiotics, headquartered in Raynham, Massachusetts, which makes a small surgical snake robot for minimally invasive surgery.

Surgical Snake Robots

Decreasing Incision Size Reduces Recovery Time

A surgical snake robot is a highly articulated device that exploits many internal degrees of freedom to thread through tight packed volumes to access locations people and conventional machinery cannot. Two of the challenges are design and path planning. Snake robots must maneuver in three dimensions and still have a cross-sectional diameter. Robot snakes are being designed to reach deeper into the body without the need for large incisions.

But building the robotic snake is only half the challenge. Controlling the snake is the hard part. In order to provide degrees of freedom for purposeful movement the robot must be able to move multi-dimensionally. Choset and his team employ topographical maps of the space and convert multidimensional challenges into single dimensional problems.

Well-defined sensor-based control laws direct a robot as it explores in unknown space. Snake robots maneuver in reaction through space. The team must exploit the natural topology of the body and encode the free space, dividing it into regions each having simple structures. The team has worked in collaboration with the Johnson Space Center where they model robot snakes as free flying objects which one day might help astronauts in space. Expect snake robots to soon have a military application to help in intelligence operations.

Snake Robot Heart Procedures

CardioARM & New Paradigms

Cardiobiotics has developed what it calls the CardioARM, a system allowing surgeons to perform heart surgery through a single point of entry, significantly improving patient recovery time and reducing risk over current heart procedures that require opening the chest and deflating the lungs.

Choset describes the technology as a new paradigm for cardiac surgery. Advances have come from computational theory and mechatronic engineering implementation. Choset focuses on fundamental robotics including topographical methods, design, mapping and coverage.

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David Schilling

David lives in the North End of Boston, Massachusetts, and regularly visits MIT, Harvard, Boston University, Northeastern, Boston\’s leading companies and labs, the stacks at Boston Atheneaum and Boston Public Library to uncover and research story ideas. You can also find David on Google+.

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