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Meet Your Dr. Octopus: Surgical Octo Arms

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Image courtesy of Flickr/Quinn Dombrowski

Robotic surgery has proved itself to be less than perfect so far. Stiff robotic limbs, burning surfaces, numerous complications. But what if that surgeon’s assistant was less like a standard robot—and more like an octopus?

A team of researchers is hoping to use inspiration from the octopus’s flexibility and chemical complexity to develop a new tool for surgeons to use in the operating room.

Like a real octopus, such a robot would have different levels of stiffness in its arms, according to the aptly named project STIFF-FLOP that is pursuing this sci-fi-esque goal. Such an ability would help surgeons in delicate maneuvers around healthy tissue.

Additionally, research about how octopuses coordinate the movement of all of their many flexible limbs could prove a great help, say the researchers involved in the project. “Here, the findings by our colleagues could be extremely valuable to provide us with a biologically inspired solution,” Kaspar Althoefer, director of the Center for Robotics Research at Kings College London, said in a prepared statement. These discoveries could suggest ways robotic arms could be “coordinated in their actions to perform an operation, possibly at a point very deep inside a patient’s anatomy.”

Finally, the researchers are keen to make use of new findings that show how the octopus uses chemical signals to avoid getting stuck to itself. “We are very excited by these developments and hope to model the found reflex mechanisms using computer algorithms and to apply those to multiple soft robots working conjointly to avoid entanglement,” Helge Wurdemann, the project manager said in a prepared statement.

“We believe that this technology can be developed alongside our work on creating soft, stiffness-controllable robotic devices and will find application in the field of robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgery.

So instead of two arms, someday, your surgeon might have eight.

Read more about bizarre applications of octopus-inspired robots in Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature In the Sea.

Illustration courtesy of Ivan Phillipsen

 

Katherine Harmon Courage About the Author: Katherine Harmon Courage is a freelance writer and contributing editor for Scientific American. Her book Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature In the Sea is out now from Penguin/Current. Follow on Twitter @KHCourage.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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