Is A Robotic Octopus Coming To A Life-Saving Surgery Near You?
Could the future of medical science give us a real-life Dr. Octopus?
Surgeons have long used the assistance of robotics during complicated surgeries, but the tools often cause complications, mostly as a result of the stiffness of the limbs. But now, a team of researchers seeks to create a new kind of robotic arm that mimics the properties of an octopus arm.
The mission statement of the project, called STIFF-FLOP, reads, "There are limitations on modern laparoscopic and robot-assisted surgical systems due to... difficulties with rigid robot tools operating inside a confined space filled with organs... 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."
The proposed robot would imitate an octopus tentacle in that it would be able to become selectively stiff and flexible in different parts when interacting with soft objects, such as organs. It may also have a gripper that is similar to the grippers on the bottom of the tentacles.
Further research regarding octopus biology may assist the researchers in creating a more efficient robotic arm. For example, the team is attempting to create an algorithm that would allow the robot to imitate the recently discovered chemical signals that prevent the octopus from getting its tentacles entangled. "We are very excited by these developments and hope to model the found reflex mechanisms using computer algorithms and to apply those to multiple soft robots working conjointly to avoid entanglement," said Helge Wurdemann, the project manager. "We believe that this technology can be developed alongside our work on creating soft, stiffness-controllable robotic devices and will find application in the field of robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgery."
Still not entirely convinced we fancy seeing this guy as the anesthetist slaps a mask over our face....
[Credit: Columbia Pictures]