Robot arms perform an incision during an ex-vivo test on a porcine gallbladder. (Credit: KAIST)

A flexible endoscopic surgical robot opens a new chapter for minimally invasive robot-assisted surgery with its precision control of 3.7 mm diameter robotic arms. The two arms, placed at the end of flexible endoscopes, demonstrate precision control and robust mini-joint design technologies. While cruising through the complicated inner body pliably, it carries out procedures on the spot with its robotic arms.

The research team recently tested the device in-vivo, conducting a complicated endoscopic procedure dissecting a porcine gallbladder. The arms successfully manipulated the tissue safely. During the test, K-FLEX, inserted through an incision in the navel, snaked through the narrow passages of the complicated inner organs. When reaching the desired spot, one of the robot arms pushed aside and held up the nearby tissue to secure proper vision and space for the procedure. Meanwhile, a cautery needle mounted at the tip of the other hand removed the lesion tissue on the gallbladder. The tiny camera installed at the front of the robot arms relayed the internal conditions. The full procedure was able to be monitored from the master console.

The two arms are placed onto 4.2 mm internal channels of an endoscope which is 17 mm in diameter. The arms can be deployable forward and backward and are extendable up to 7 cm for performing procedures.

K-FLEX is made of domestically produced components, except for the endoscopic module. The team expects it will expand new medical robotics research while offering novel therapeutic capabilities for endoscopes.

Flexible endoscopes are very promising for surgical applications because they can treat areas thought to be difficult to reach, such as the posterior side of an organ. Current rigid-type laparoscopic tools could not reach a lesion if it occurs in such serpentine and complicated areas. However, this flexible endoscopic surgery robot will bypass obstacles to reach the troubled area.