Jessica Burgner-Kahrs, director of the Continuous Robotics Laboratory at the University of Toronto Mississauga, and her team are building highly flexible and expandable robots several millimeters in diameter, for use in surgery and engineering.

Unlike humanoid robots, this so-called snake-like robot has a long body and no limbs that allow them to reach hard-to-reach places.

Think of a neurosurgeon who needs to remove a brain tumor. Use a rigid, traditional surgical tool and approach the cancer by following a straight path into the brain and running the risk of penetrating and damaging vital tissues. Burgner-Kahrs envisions a day when one of her snake-like robots, controlled by a surgeon, takes a winding path around vital tissues but still gets to the spot where surgery is needed. precision technique. Previously inoperable brain tumors can now become accessible. “It could revolutionize surgery,” she says.

Robots will be controlled by doctors.

In addition, her lab is also developing a more advanced generation of snake-like robots that are equipped with sensors and can be partially controlled. A surgeon will have to operate the robot remotely using a computer, but the robot will know how to avoid obstacles and recognize its destination. In this way, surgeons can deploy one of these robots to collect tissue samples from the abdomen or inject cancer drugs directly into a tumor in the lung.

The robot can also be used elsewhere outside the human body, such as to check for damage to aircraft engines.

To be able to develop more advanced snake-like robots, the researchers are aiming to answer three questions:

  • How can robots move more precisely through constricted and winding environments?
  • How can a more intuitive interface between humans and robots be designed?
  • How can we use these multiple robots in parallel to complete a task?
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