Flexible Nitinol robots could transform surgery

August 15, 2015

Robot

Scientists from Leibniz University, Hannover, Germany, are collaborating with research teams at the Vanderbilt University in Nashville, USA, to develop tiny flexible snake-like robots which will allow surgeons to access difficult-to-reach spaces with minimal invasion. Nitinol (UNS N01555), the bio-compatible nickel titanium alloy frequently used in stents, catheters or braces, has been chosen for its shape memory properties and super elasticity.

Dr. Jessica Burgner-Kahrs from the Hannover Center for Mechatronics at Leibniz University is leading research into how robots fitted with tentacle-like arms made of several tiny superelastic Nitinol tubes could transform delicate brain surgery. A team from the Vanderbilt University is researching the removal of hematomas in the brains of stroke patients using the robots, in a project funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Unlike conventional robots which have joints and rigid connections, ‘continuum robots’ feature a continuous structure which is inspired by bionics—think elephant’s trunk or snake. Because of the shape memory properties, the small tube can be bent and once the deforming pressure decreases it will return to its original shape. Ultimately this elasticity could allow the robot to move along curves in tiny spaces within the human body to reach areas previously too dangerous to access. The Nitinol robot has potential applications in sinuses, for access to the pituitary gland as well as removing hemorrhagic fluid or clots from the brain.


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