Engineers appear to take a lot of inspiration from snakes when it comes to robotics. We’ve previously brought you snake robots that repair pipelines on the ocean floor, snake-inspired machines that burrow through sand & soil, and snake-like robotics that could even be used in emergencies.
Slender, flexible, and extensible robots
According to a press release from the University of Toronto Mississauga, a team led by Jessica Burgner-Kahrs, director of the Continuum Robotics Lab, is now developing very slender, flexible, and extensible robots that could be used by doctors to save lives. They accomplish this by accessing difficult-to-reach areas.
“Think about a neurosurgeon who has to remove a brain tumour. “Using a traditional, rigid surgical tool, “The surgeon must reach the cancerous mass by following a straight path into the brain and risk poking through – and damaging – vital tissue,” the researchers write in a press release.
“Burgner-Kahrs imagines a day when one of her snake-like robots, guided by a surgeon, could take a winding path around vital tissue while still reaching the precise surgical site.” Brain tumours that were previously inoperable may suddenly become operable.”
This is no small accomplishment, and it has the potential to revolutionise the medical industry. The researchers are even developing semi-autonomous models that will one day be able to guide themselves.
Although the surgeons would still need to direct the robots, the machines may make use of sensors to avoid obstacles in their path. Surgery would be simpler and safer thanks to the invention.
3 questions guide the researchers’ work
Burgner-Kahrs says she guides her work to answer three questions in order to achieve this lofty goal:
- How can we programme continuum robots to move more precisely through constrained and tortuous environments?
- How can we create a more natural interface between humans and robots? Is it possible to create a fully autonomous robot?
- How can we use multiple continuum robots in tandem to collaboratively complete a task?
Her team and the researchers are also experimenting with new types of snake robots that are more dexterous & extensible. One recent model is origami-inspired, which means it’s very light and can elongate up to ten times longer than other designs. This makes it ideal for use in search and rescue applications.
Snake robots, obviously, can come in a variety of shapes & sizes, with a wide range of applications. This implies that their potential is not limited to a single industry. Indeed, the advancement of these multipurpose machines has the potential to transform our lives in the future by simplifying many complex tasks.