Abstracts of presentations

Title: Soft Robotics Applications in Medicine: Self-Propelled Soft Robot for Colonoscopy and X-Ray Transparent Soft Robot for Gastro Fluoroscopy (Koichi Suzumori)

In order for soft robotics to maintain its relevance and momentum as a burgeoning research field, it is imperative to showcase its practical applications within society. Among these applications, the medical field stands out as particularly promising. Catheters and endoscopes serve as prime examples of soft robots already in practical deployment. In this presentation, I will introduce two applications that have been under development.

Firstly, a self-propelled colonoscope addresses the challenges posed by the intricate and easily deformable nature of the large intestine. Even when experienced physicians use a variety of techniques, it is not always easy to successfully insert an endoscope into the colon. Accidents resulting in improper insertion, examination interruptions, or intestinal injuries are not uncommon. Our solution involves the development of a method utilizing two rubber hoses with three chambers each, wrapped around an existing endoscope. By sequentially applying air pressure to these chambers, elastic traveling waves are induced on the tube surface, resulting in self-propelled motion of the endoscope through the colon.

Secondly, a soft robot designed specifically for gastro fluoroscopy aids in the examination of the stomach using contrast media. Gastro fluoroscopy, a common diagnostic procedure in regions with high incidence of gastric cancer, involves X-raying the stomach and stomach wall post-administration of a barium contrast agent to visualize their morphology. Achieving clear images of the gastric wall necessitates appropriate dispersion of the contrast agent within the stomach. To address this, we have developed an X-ray-transparent soft robot capable of applying controlled pressure to the subject's abdominal wall, thereby dispersing the contrast agent throughout the stomach. A study involving approximately 60 subjects has yielded significant results.

Title: Pneumatic Soft Actuators for Medical and Nursing Applications (Hiroyuki Nabae)

The mechanical flexibility of soft actuators greatly contributes to the safety of mechanical systems involving human contact and interaction, which is essential in mechanical systems in medical and nursing fields. When considering practical applications, pneumatic soft actuators stand out as the closest to practical usages because they are easier to handle and provide a comparatively large output compared to other soft actuators. Balloon-type pneumatic actuators have been used in cuff-type blood pressure monitors for many years, indicating their high applicability in the medical field. In this presentation, pneumatic actuators including pneumatic artificial muscles developed by our research group will be introduced. The presenter also introduces research achievements of our research group to apply pneumatic soft actuators to the medical and nursing fields, which include rehabilitation equipment and thrombosis prevention device using the artificial muscles, and a human body simulator using pneumatic actuators.

Title: Soft robot design – from surgery to rehabilitation (Tania Morimoto)

Abstract: Flexible and soft robots have the potential for significant impact across a range of medical applications. In addition to their benefits in minimally invasive surgical applications, their inherent compliance also make them well-suited for other tasks requiring close human-robot interaction and collaboration. In this talk, I will present several new robot designs across a range of medical applications – from surgery to rehabilitation. First, I will discuss our work on two different continuum robots – soft, growing robots that achieve locomotion by material extending from their tip, and concentric tube robots. I will also discuss new approaches for providing haptic feedback during teleoperation of these robots using soft and flexible interfaces. Finally, I will present our work on the design of soft wearable robots for rehabilitation.

Title: Towards bridging gaps in continuum robotics research (Taha M. Chikhaoui)

Our continuum robotics community has been considerably growing since pioneering research a few decades ago. A considerable number of designs, prototypes, models, interfaces, and applications are investigated, proving the interest and relevance of such topics. Nevertheless, timescales and maturity levels are tremendously disparate, i.e. continuum robots tend to be designed and fabricated relatively faster than modeled or integrated. This led to developing a rich set of robot prototypes, at least as numerous as the number of labs in the field; conversely to the common practice in rigid-link standard robotics. Initiatives to bridge such gaps in continuum robotics research are progressively emerging. To come within this scope, this presentation focuses on our recent work in unifying the modeling framework, starting with that of tendon-actuated continuum robots (TACR), being one of the most established ones. Comparisons of TACR with novel continuum robot counterparts are also highlighted. Ideas on opening access for use, build, and compare data and prototypes, as well as on first steps to unite/standardize specific approaches in continuum robotics research are discussed.

TitleMotion Planning for Soft Continuum Robots Toward Robot-Assisted Surgery (Jiewen Lai )

Motion planning can be non-trivial for redundant soft continuum robots, and it contributes to safer robot-assisted surgery in the sense of achieving specific poses and avoiding collision with critical regions at the surgical site. Redundancy plays a vital role, but it also poses a major challenge in planning. In this talk, I will introduce some of our works in dealing with motion planning problems for redundant tendon-driven soft continuum robots, from tip motion control to whole-body motion control, and how these methods can benefit potential surgical applications.

Title: Solid-State Soft Pumps for Digital Fluidics (Vito Caccuciolo)

Fluids are ubiquitously used in engineering to cool-down or heat-up machines, create motion, lift weights. Every biological creature has more than one fluid circulation apparatus in its body. If miniaturized, fluid pressure and fluid circulation can bridge engineering and life science, creating devices for controlled drug delivery, soft and flexible actuators, lab-on-chip apparatus. So far, the applications of fluidics in the medical field have been limited by the bulkiness of the pumps and valves required to create fluid circulation. My work has focused on technologies to miniaturize fluidics to use it in portable, digital systems. Our solid-state pumps solve the challenge of making fluid circulation integrated and miniaturized, replacing noisy and bulk pumps and compressors with stretchable or flexible fiber-shaped pumps. I will present our work on understanding ElectroHydroDynamics pumping and selecting materials and geometries to build pumps that are silent, compact (1 g weight) and all made of soft materials. I will then discuss how these pumps can be connected with soft actuators, endoscopes, lab on chip devices and used to power untethered robotic systems with medical applications. These solid-state soft pumps will enable a digital revolution for fluidics, which will bring the wide capabilities of fluids to the next generation of intelligent robots and wearables.

Title: EndoTheia, Inc.: next-generation devices for flexible endoscopy (Jake Childs)

Concentric push-pull robots (CPPR) show tremendous promise for surgical and endoscopic applications. CPPRs are constructed from asymmetrically patterned tubes that are joined together at their distal tips, and relative translations of the proximal tube bases generates bending in the CPPR. These manipulators can be designed to achieve bending angles >270 degrees, have large inner lumens for passing tools through, and can be attached to long, passive transmission sections that enable flexible endoscopic deployment. EndoTheia, a medical device startup, is using CPPR technology to develop next-generation devices for flexible endoscopy. This talk will tell the story of EndoTheia, showcasing how the company’s fundamental technology was invented in the REACH Lab at the University of Tennessee, presenting state-of-the-art mechanics modeling and design of CPPRs, and highlighting the applications and devices EndoTheia is currently working to commercialize.

Title: Challenges and opportunities of continuum robots in minimally invasive interventions (Quentin Boelher)

In the last fifteen years, medical and surgical robotics has surged, with thousands of clinical systems installed worldwide, and millions of procedures performed. The emergence of soft and continuum robots to perform complex surgical tasks, and the increasing available computational power and AI-based tools for their design and control created unprecedented opportunities for their application in medicine. Exciting challenges must be addressed to harness this potential to the benefit of health care. In this talk, I will share with you my ongoing journey in medical robotics research. We notably demonstrated the design and control of magnetic soft robotic devices, for which fundamental advances in their simulation and control are needed to fully leverage them in minimally invasive interventions. Our research also focused on developing electromagnetic navigation systems to steer these robots with various levels of autonomy remotely. This journey led me to collaborate with interdisciplinary teams across the world, gathering engineers, clinicians, and researchers to translate these developments to clinical procedures. Promising applications include neurovascular procedures, cardiac ablations, and fetal surgeries. These efforts started making their way to the clinic, with a spin-off company from our group currently working toward the commercialization of robotics systems based on our research.

Title: Continuum Robot State Estimation Using Gaussian Process Regression (Sven Lilge)

One major challenge in continuum robots is to efficiently capture and describe their non-linear shapes. While traditional modeling approaches of continuum robots usually yield good agreement with respect to robotic prototypes, they can suffer from relatively high remaining errors due to unmodeled effects and uncertainties arising from the elasticity of the material. One promising approach to address this challenge is the application of statistical state estimation methods that fuse additional sensor information with a feasible prior model to estimate the shape of continuum robots, along with associated uncertainties. In this talk, I will discuss the application of Gaussian process regression to the state estimation of continuum robots on SE(3).

Title: Enabling touch-based manipulation in soft robots (Thomas G. Thuruthel)

Control tasks involving interactions greatly benefit from soft-bodied designs and the use of tactile information in the loop. However, traditional sensing technologies are not readily applicable to soft robots, and novel soft tactile sensing technologies are complex to develop and model. This talk presents some advances in the modelling and control of soft robots using tactile feedback, including novel sensing technologies.