Robotic Tentacle Aims to Revolutionize Keyhole Surgery
Tentacles are no longer the stuff of nightmares and terror; Italian engineers, taking inspiration from the octopus, have built a robotic tentacle arm that could be instrumental in ensuring the safety of surgical operations.
Day of the tentacle
The robot tentacle aims to improve the safety of surgical operations and it does this because of one thing it has, or in this case, lacks. Just like its deep-sea counterpart, the robotic appendage has no skeleton, that allows it more freedom to bend, and stretch unimpeded. It can even switch between its flexible states to a more rigid form when necessary.
Even stranger, the mechanism’s inflatable parts are actually operated by coffee. The engineers revealed that the central chamber of the arm is full of coarsely grounded coffee granules which, when suction is applied, jams together and makes the tentacle more rigid. Releasing the suction reverts it back to its more flexible state. The tentacle’s design focuses on minimizing risks in invasive surgery.
TommasoRanzani, lead author from the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa said that ‘The human body represents a highly challenging and non-structured environment, where the capabilities of an octopus can provide several advantages with respect to traditional surgical tools’. He further explains a possible scenario wherein the flexible tentacle can wind its way in a small and hard to reach area of the human body. Its flexibility allows it to hold delicate organs in place while another part of the arm does the operating.
He further explains that the tentacle can help reduce the amount of specialized tools needed to use in surgery and simplify the entire operation. He notes that ‘graspers, retractors, vision systems, and dissectors’ are just some of the many tools a surgeon needs to carry out just one procedure. This ‘all-in-one approach’, he says, would allow surgeons to also reduce the number of incisions they need to actually get instruments inside a patient’s body which is very beneficial to patients, citing smaller surgical scars as an example.
Despite the multitude of tasks the robotic tentacle can handle, other robotic engineers think that there is still a long way to go before it is ready for any real surgery. Ravi Vaidyanathan, a senior lecturer at Imperial College in London specializing in bio-mechatronics says that ‘The concept has a great deal of potential and the implementation is clever, but there’s a great deal of testing and refinement to be done before it’s ready for the operating theatre.’