Soft Robotic Manipulator for Improving Dexterity in Minimally Invasive Surgery

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Background. Combining the strengths of surgical robotics and minimally invasive surgery (MIS) holds the potential to revolutionize surgical interventions. The MIS advantages for the patients are obvious, but the use of instrumentation suitable for MIS often translates in limiting the surgeon capabilities (eg, reduction of dexterity and maneuverability and demanding navigation around organs). To overcome these shortcomings, the application of soft robotics technologies and approaches can be beneficial. The use of devices based on soft materials is already demonstrating several advantages in all the exploitation areas where dexterity and safe interaction are needed. In this article, the authors demonstrate that soft robotics can be synergistically used with traditional rigid tools to improve the robotic system capabilities and without affecting the usability of the robotic platform. Materials and Methods. A bioinspired soft manipulator equipped with a miniaturized camera has been integrated with the Endoscopic Camera Manipulator arm of the da Vinci Research Kit both from hardware and software viewpoints. Usability of the integrated system has been evaluated with nonexpert users through a standard protocol to highlight difficulties in controlling the soft manipulator. Results and Conclusion. This is the first time that an endoscopic tool based on soft materials has been integrated into a surgical robot. The soft endoscopic camera can be easily operated through the da Vinci Research Kit master console, thus increasing the workspace and the dexterity, and without limiting intuitive and friendly use.

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