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Snake Like Robots Designed to Assist Surgeons

," Taylor insists. "We want to work in partnership with surgeons to help them do their work more effectively. Human hands are remarkable, but they have limitations. There are times when it would be useful to have a 'third hand,' and we can provide that. Sometimes a surgeon's fingers are too large to work in a small confined space within the body. We can help by building tools that act like inhumanly small and highly dexterous hands."

One promising example is the team's snakelike robot. Currently, a doctor performing throat surgery must insert and manually manipulate long inflexible tools and a camera into this narrow passageway. The snakelike robot would provide an alternative. It could enter the throat with two thin rods tipped with tentacle like tools capable of moving with six degrees of freedom. If directed, the tools can bend easily into an S-curve.

During surgery, a doctor would sit at a robotic workstation and peer into eyepieces that display a three-dimensional view of the operating site. The doctor would then maneuver the controls to guide the movement of the robot. The prototype is made of nonmagnetic metals so that it can be used safely near magnetic imaging equipment. The tools' movements are nimble because sophisticated software can make up to 100 adjustments per second.

The steady-hand system, also devised by a Johns Hopkins team, was built to help with another challenging task: microsurgery. At this scale, even the best surgeons display some tremor in their hands. Yet the slightest uncontrolled movements can be troublesome during surgery on microscopic structures, such as tiny blood vessels in the eye. To address this problem, the steady-hand robot can grasp a needle and move it carefully in tandem with the surgeon in a technique called cooperative manipulation.

In tests of the device, the researchers have successfully injected a liquid into a chicken embryo's blood vessels, resembling structures in the human eye. "
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