New surgical robot could merge imaging, sensing and robotics

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A new surgical robot, i-Snake, currently in development at the Imperial College in London, aims to extend the use of surgical techniques by incorporating imaging and manipulation technologies.

Using special motors, multiple sensing mechanisms and imaging tools at its head, the flexible i-Snake robot may be able to act as the surgeon’s hands and eyes, allowing them to navigate difficult and restrictive regions of the body. 

A multidisciplinary research team from Imperial College has been awarded more than $4.15 million U.S. (£2.1 million) from the Wellcome Trust to develop the i-Snake over the next four years.

The team includes Professor Lord Ara Darzi of the division of surgery, oncology, reproductive biology and anaesthetics, and a minimally invasive surgery surgeon, as well as Professor Guang-Zhong Yang, who is the director of medical imaging and robotics at Imperial's Institute of Biomedical Engineering.

Darzi said the “imaging and sensing capabilities coupled with the accessibility and sensitivity of i-Snake will enable more complex diagnostic and therapeutic procedures than are currently possible. The cost benefits that i-Snake will introduce include earlier, cheaper and less invasive treatment, faster recovery and procedure times and intangible benefits through an increase in patient care and quality of life.”

Yang commented that the “i-Snake uses a biologically-inspired articulation design to allow flexible articulation of the instrument tip. It combines both intra- and inter-operative image guided surgical navigation with dynamic active constraints for improved surgical precision and safety. The project represents a unique cross-disciplinary collaboration within Imperial College in imaging, sensing and robotics.”