Robotic Octopus Arm Could Revolutionize Surgery

Screenshot of robotic arm in action via video by Tommaso Ranzani et al

Something is fishy about this new invention: a robotic arm designed to revolutionize keyhole surgery that is inspired by octopus tentacles.

For most robotic arms used in surgery, it is only the tip that is used to manipulate organs. The octo-surgeon, however, has upped its arm efficiency: It can manipulate surgical instruments with the tip and maneuver organs with the body of its arm, coiling around organs like the tentacle of an octopus.

It's still early days for the robotic device, but Dr. Tommaso Ranzani, lead author of the study, says: "We believe our device is the first step to creating an instrument that is able to perform all of these tasks, as well as reach remote areas of the body and safely support organs around the target site." It would also minimize the number of incisions needed for surgery, especially for tricky-to-reach organs.

The current design has two modules that have an unexpectedly caffeinated substance at their core: coffee granules. When air is sucked out of the coffee-filled tube, the coffee granules pack together and become rigid. This process, known as 'granular jamming,' controls the movement of the robot and locks the arm in place when necessary.

The arm can bend up to an angle of 255° in most directions, as well as elongate by an extra 62% of its length, and stiffen and squeeze.

Dr. Ranzani said in the press release: "The human body represents a highly challenging and non-structured environment, where the capabilities of the octopus can provide several advantages with respect to traditional surgical tools."

"Generally, the octopus has no rigid structures and can thus adapt the shape of its body to its environment," Ranzani adds. "Taking advantage of the lack of rigid skeletal support, the eight highly flexible and long arms can twist, change their length, or bend in any direction at any point along the arm."

The mechanism was put to the test not with real organs but instead with highly technical balloons filled with water. It's still early days for the robot, but there's potential for it to one day navigate an obstacle course of organs.

 

 

[Via Bioinspiration and Biomimetics]

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