Scientists and doctors are using the roboticized endoscopic-like tools to perform surgery on hearts, prostate cancer, and other diseased organs. The snakebots carry tiny cameras, scissors and forceps, and even more advanced sensors are in the works. For now, they’re powered by tethers that humans control. But experts say the day is coming when some robots will roam the body on their own.
Carnegie Mellon University professor Howie Choset stands behind a robot demonstrating how it climbs up a tubular armature at their lab on campus in Pittsburgh. Photo: AP
Choset believes that his snake robot and others like it help reduce medical costs by making complex surgeries faster and easier. Choset says his new design is smaller and more flexible than earlier models: The diametre of the head is less than the size of a dime.
The size of surgical robots allows surgeons to operate with far less damage to the body, helping the patient heal faster. For example, instead of opening the entire chest up during heart surgery, a small incision is made, and the robot crawls inside to the proper spot.
Dr. Ashutosh Tewari of Cornell University Medical Centre has used robotic tools to perform thousands of prostate operations. He said the precision of the tiny robotic tool is vital not just to cutting out cancerous tumours, but to seeing exactly what nerves to leave intact.
Carnegie Mellon University professor Howie Choset, right, stands behind a robot as staff researcher Florinan Enner uses a controller to demonstrate how it moves at their lab on campus in Pittsburgh. Photo: AP
Medrobotics has built a flexible robot platform, which is a highly articulated multi-link robot, allowing minimally-invasive procedures to replace open surgical procedures for many parts of the anatomy that are otherwise difficult or previously impossible to reach.
Our flexible robot platform includes on-board visualization and contains multiple open device channels to accept a variety of flexible surgical and interventional tools. The robot enables physicians to operate through non-linear circuitous paths, self-supported, and through a single-site access into the body.
The flexibility and motion of the robot is gained from its numerous mechanical linkages with concentric mechanisms. Each mechanism can be placed into a rigid or a flexible state. By employing a patented “follow-the-leader” movement strategy with these alternating states (rigid or flexible), the robot can be directed into any shape through the relative orientations of its linkages.