Our work in the area of medical robotics focuses on creating soft robots and advanced sensors for minimally invasive surgery. In minimally invasive surgery, tools go through narrow openings and manipulate soft organs that can move, deform, or change stiffness. There are limitations on modern laparoscopic and robot-assisted surgical systems due to restricted access through Trocar ports, lack of haptic feedback, and difficulties with rigid robot tools operating inside a confined space filled with organs.
Also, many control algorithms suffer from stability problems in the presence of unexpected conditions. Yet biological manipulators like the octopus arm and the elephant trunk, can manipulate objects while controlling the stiffness of selected body parts and being inherently compliant when interacting with objects.
We aim to extend the state of the art in embodied cognition through real world experiments on manipulators that can selectively control their stiffness and degrees of freedom morphing from a complete soft state to an articulated one. This variable stiffness robot arm will have many applications in MIS including NOTES (Natural Orifices Translumenal Endoscopic Surgery). With the support of KARL STORZ ENDOSCOPES, the European Association for Endoscopic Surgery (EAES) and three internationally-leading medical institutes, we will test the soft arm in a minimally invasive robotic surgery application to demonstrate its feasibility.