Soft robot for minimally invasive surgery applications

A significant part of my doctorate research has been conducted in this emerging field of robotics called Soft Robotics. As biomedical engineer, my focus has always been towards medical applications, so during my PhD I explored the potential of the soft robotic approach in minimally invasive surgery.

Soft Camera Robot. Developed within the STIFF FLOP project. The prototype was designed for performing tests in human cadaver [9-10].

Soft Camera Robot. Developed within the STIFF FLOP project. The prototype was designed for performing tests in human cadaver [9-10].

Minimally Invasive Surgery (MIS) represents the gold standard in the majority of abdominal operations. Although some fundamental limitations are still present and are far to be really addressed despite emerging robotic solutions which are based on structures made from rigid components that only move in straight lines, consequently giving access to a limited number of sites.

Made from two segments of silicone material, the new surgical robot is equipped with three air chambers per segment allowing elongation and bending in all directions [4-5-6]. It thus mimics an octopus' ability to move its tentacles, enabling the robot to squeeze through narrow openings and past delicate organs without damaging them. The improved dexterity and flexibility of the new robot and superior visual feedback allows surgeons to investigate and explore many more of the narrow tunnel-like structures within the body. The robot can also be fitted with surgical tools such as grippers or cutters to make it a fully functional surgical tool [8].

This research was featured in the TED talk on soft robotics.

(@ TED2018 Vancouver, April 10-14, 2018)


Modular soft robotics using pneumatic actuation

One of the main issue affecting fluid actuation in modular robotic is the management of fluid lines (aka tubes). This work proposes an architecture solution which allows to build a soft modular robot whose structure is independent of the number of modules. The control is managed using a single regulated pressure line while the integrated control and embedded latching valves manage the local actuation in each module [3].

An advanced version with embedded bending sensors was also developed to implement closed loop control of each module [1].

A soft pneumatic actuator was also developed, following the same design principle, and used to actuate the end effector gripper [2] of the manipulator developed in the work of [8].


[1] Gerboni G., Diodato, A., Ciuti, G., Cianchetti, M. Menciassi, A. (2017). Feedback control of soft robot actuators via commercial flex bend sensors. IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics.

[2] Gerboni, G. Brancadoro, M., Tortora, G., Diodato, A., Cianchetti, M., Menciassi, A. (2016). A novel linear elastic actuator for minimally invasive surgery: development of a surgical gripper. Smart Materials and Structures, 25(10).

[3] Gerboni G., Ranzani, T., Diodato, A., Ciuti, G., Cianchetti, M., Menciassi, A. (2015). Modular soft mechatronic manipulator for minimally invasive surgery (MIS): overall architecture and development of a fully integrated soft module. Meccanica, 50(11).

[4] Cianchetti, M., Ranzani, T.,Gerboni, G., Nanayakkara, T., Althoefer, K., Dasgupta, P., Menciassi, A. (2014). Soft robotics technologies to address shortcomings in today's minimally invasive surgery: the STIFF-FLOP approach. Soft Robotics, 1(2).

[5] De Falco, I., Gerboni, G., Cianchetti, M., & Menciassi, A. (2015). Design and fabrication of an elastomeric unit for soft modular robots in minimally invasive surgery. Journal of visualized experiments: JoVE, (105).

[6] Ranzani, T., Gerboni, G., Cianchetti, M., Menciassi, A. (2015). A bioinspired soft manipulator for minimally invasive surgery. Bioinspiration and biomimetics, 10(3).

[7] Ranzani, T., Cianchetti, M., Gerboni, G., De Falco, I., Menciassi, A. (2016). A soft modular manipulator for minimally invasive surgery: design and characterization of a single module. IEEE Transactions on Robotics, 32(1).

[8] Arezzo, A., Mintz, Y., Allaix, M. E., Arolfo, S., Bonino, M., Gerboni, G., Brancadoro M, Cianchetti M, Menciassi A., Wurdermann H., Noh, Y., AlthoeferK K, Fras J., Glowka J., Nawrat Z., Cassidy G., Walker R., Morino M. (2017). Total mesorectal excision using a soft and flexible robotic arm: a feasibility study in cadaver models. Surgical endoscopy, 31(1).

[9] Abidi, H., Gerboni, G, Brancadoro, M., Diodato, A., Cianchetti, M., Wurdemann, H., Althoefer K., Menciassi, A. (2017). Highly dexterous two modules soft robot for intra organ navigation in minimally invasive surgery. The International Journal of Medical Robotics and Computer Assisted Surgery