The slender robot, developed at the University of Leeds, takes the form of a tentacle that can be pointed into the depths of the lungs to inspect suspicious lesions or deliver drugs.
The robot, inspired by the tentacles of octopuses and squids, was conceived to expand the capabilities of the so-called bronchoscope, a tubular medical instrument used to examine the lungs and airways. Doctors insert it through the nose and mouth into the bronchial passages and then pass a thinner 2-millimeter catheter through the inside of it and deeper into the airways.
But this approach has limitations in maneuverability, which leaves some places out of reach, so scientists from the University of Leeds decided to develop a more flexible device that could be more precisely controlled while inside the body. The result is a robot made up of interconnected cylindrical soft elastomer segments embedded with tiny magnetic particles.
“A robot with a magnetic tentacle or a 2-millimeter catheter that can be shaped to fit the anatomy of the bronchial tree can reach most areas of the lung and could be an important clinical tool in the investigation and treatment of possible lung cancer and other lung diseases,” says the professor. Pietro Valdastri, who led the study.
The technology is far from being used in hospitals, but scientists believe that its accuracy and autonomous nature will provide a much more efficient means of inspecting lesions, taking tissue samples, or delivering anti-cancer drugs to hard-to-reach places.