Soft robotic arm: An option to standard endoscopes
Invasive surgeries involve tools that are rigid and there’s a high risk of accidentally puncturing or tearing tissue. Identifying the need for minimally invasive surgical tools, a team of Harvard scientists have designed a device that functions as a highly intelligent robotic arm. There have been soft robots even before that have been safe to use for invasive surgeries, but they've not been strong enough to perform surgical tasks.
Dr. Sheila Russo, the lead author of the research that was published in Advanced Materials Technologies, was heavily inspired by previous research involving origami-inspired, pop-up fabrication developed by Robert Wood of Charles River Laboratories. She and her team created a hybrid model using a combination of the soft and rigid components. The components of this model are connected to each other by chemical bond instead of adhesives, resulting in a device that is flexible. It also has a suction cup that is gentler on the tissues as compared to a sharp tool. The device lies flat on the endoscope while travelling through the body. It pops up when it arrives at the target spot with the help of a water-powered actuator.
The fabrication method used to develop the device is simple and facilitates bulk manufacturing. Also, the device can be scaled down to one millimeter for extremely complex procedures that need the endoscope to travel through tiny places such as the brain or lungs. Since the manufacturing of the robotic arm is cost-effective, the research team hopes that it can be used as a disposable device in surgeries in the future.
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