Researchers have laid the groundwork for a soft robotic tool and control system that could grant surgeons an unprecedented degree of maneuverability within the brain. A recent study demonstrates that the new system is both intuitive and highly accurate. The early results suggest that, with further development, the robot could one day speed up and improve the efficacy of minimally invasive surgeries for life-threatening brain aneurysms and other serious conditions.

The researchers designed an air pressure operated — or pneumatic — catheter tip which they 3D printed using a soft and flexible resin. The design includes two hollow channels running in parallel along the length of the tip, which, if pressurized individually, causes the tip to deflect to either the left or the right.

While the catheter tip itself was inspired by existing designs, the authors sought to address a need that those previous robotic systems had not yet tackled — a control system that would fit well into the current clinical workflow. The researchers intend to increase their design's functionality by adding tips in series, which could allow the device to bend into more complicated shapes and navigate difficult vascular environments. (Image credit: Noah Barnes, PhD Student, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University)

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