Image of mini-RCM
The mini-RCM is controlled by three linear actuators (mini-LAs) that allow it to move in multiple dimensions and help correct hand tremors and other disturbances during teleoperation. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University)

An origami-inspired miniature robot moves in multiple dimensions to help correct hand tremors and other disturbances during teleoperation. The robot is the size of a tennis ball, weighs about as much as a penny, and successfully performed a difficult mock surgical task.

To create their miniature surgical robot, the researchers used a MEMS manufacturing technique in which materials are deposited on top of each other in layers that are bonded together, then laser-cut in a specific pattern that allows the desired three-dimensional shape to “pop up,” as in a children’s pop-up picture book.

The team created a parallelogram shape to serve as the main structure of the robot, then fabricated three linear actuators (mini-LAs) to control the robot’s movement: one parallel to the bottom of the parallelogram that raises and lowers it, one perpendicular to the parallelogram that rotates it, and one at the tip of the parallelogram that extends and retracts the tool in use. The result was a robot that is much smaller and lighter than other microsurgical devices previously developed in academia.

The team also integrated LED-based optical sensors into the mini-LA to detect and correct any deviations from the desired movement, such as those caused by hand tremors. In addition to its efficacy in performing delicate surgical maneuvers, the mini-RCM’s small size makes it easy to set up and install and, in the case of a complication or electrical outage, the robot can be easily removed from a patient’s body by hand.