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Soft continuum manipulator for minimally invasive surgery

Using Robot Technology, minimally invasive surgery (MIS) has considerably advanced over the last few decades. Recently, robotic surgical devices such as the da Vinci surgery systems take advantage of cutting-edge robot technology leading to tremendous advancement in stable and safe MIS. However, due to their rigid structure and low degrees of freedom, such medical devices require a large motion workspace to perform surgical operations.

These devices have limited ability to pass and maneuver inside small openings and confined spaces. Besides, the rigid structure damages soft tissues or organs while the manipulator passes there. For these reasons, many scientists have been developing a soft manipulator which is a soft robotic arm that can squeeze through standard MIS trocar ports enabling precise closed-loop motion control of the arm, and the stiffness of the arm can be adjusted at various regions along its length through granular jamming to overcome the issues as mentioned above.

However, they are comforted with two issues on how to guarantee closed-loop shape control of the manipulator and on how to enable it to interact with an environment.

Although pressures in the manipulator’s chambers or wire lengths pulled by actuators at its base can estimate its shapes indirectly, when external forces are exerted on it passing inside organs, its shapes change, meaning the estimation would be out of range of the real shape with a huge error. For these reasons, a few shape sensors and tactile sensors which can be integrated into soft material exist, and many new approaches using different sensing elements have been studied by academic institutions to improve their accuracy.

In this project, we have developed a soft manipulator integrating shape sensors and tactile sensors using fibre optic technology. The optical fibre is itself soft, so it never affects the stiffness of the soft manipulator, and the sensing principle is based on light intensity modulation converting light intensity to physical quantity to estimate the shape of and external forces acting on the soft manipulator from the environment.

The advantage of this approach can guarantee measuring more than 10kHz high frequency shape and external force data, the fibre optic technology relatively has lower electrical noise, and fabricating cost is very cheap.



Manipulator with contact force and shape sensors for minimally invasive surgery
Manipulator with contact force and shape sensors for minimally invasive surgery

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Project last modified 10/09/2021