Roboticists at the University of California San Diego have developed an affordable, easy-to-use system to help track the location of flexible surgical robots inside the human body. Developed by Tania Morimoto, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, and mechanical engineering Ph.D. student Connor Watson, the system performs as well as the current state of the art methods, is comparatively less expensive, and doesn’t require exposure to radiation.
These continuum medical robots work well in highly constrained environments inside the body are inherently safer and more compliant than rigid tools. However, there is one limitation that these find it a bit harder to track their location and shape inside the body. If this limitation is overcome, these will be able to track the surgical robots inside the human body easily, thereby benefitting both patients and surgeons.
There is a magnet embedded in the tip of a flexible robot that can be used in delicate places inside the body (like arterial passages in the brain). As the robot is soft and moves by growing, it has very little impact on its surroundings. This makes it ideal for use in medical settings.
The existing magnet localization methods that work in a similar manner as GPS helped in developing a computer model that predicts the robot's location. GPS satellites ping smartphones and based on how long it takes for the signal to arrive, the GPS receiver in the smartphone can determine where the cell phone is. Similarly, it becomes easier to know how strong the magnetic field should be around the magnet embedded in the robot. The four sensors that are carefully spaced around the area where the robot operates are used to measure the magnetic field strength. Based on how strong the field is, it becomes possible to determine where the tip of the robot is. The system (including the robot, magnets, and magnet localization setup) costs around $100.