Design and Fabrication of an Elastomeric Unit for Soft Modular Robots in Minimally Invasive Surgery


I. D. Falco, G. Gerboni, M. Cianchetti, and A. Menciassi, “Design and Fabrication of an Elastomeric Unit for Soft Modular Robots in Minimally Invasive Surgery,” Journal of Visualized Experiments : JoVE, vol. 105, 2015.


In recent years, soft robotics technologies have aroused increasing interest in the medical field due to their intrinsically safe interaction in unstructured environments. At the same time, new procedures and techniques have been developed to reduce the invasiveness of surgical operations. Minimally Invasive Surgery (MIS) has been successfully employed for abdominal interventions, however standard MIS procedures are mainly based on rigid or semi-rigid tools that limit the dexterity of the clinician. This paper presents a soft and high dexterous manipulator for MIS. The manipulator was inspired by the biological capabilities of the octopus arm, and is designed with a modular approach. Each module presents the same functional characteristics, thus achieving high dexterity and versatility when more modules are integrated. The paper details the design, fabrication process and the materials necessary for the development of a single unit, which is fabricated by casting silicone inside specific molds. The result consists in an elastomeric cylinder including three flexible pneumatic actuators that enable elongation and omni-directional bending of the unit. An external braided sheath improves the motion of the module. In the center of each module a granular jamming-based mechanism varies the stiffness of the structure during the tasks. Tests demonstrate that the module is able to bend up to 120° and to elongate up to 66% of the initial length. The module generates a maximum force of 47 N, and its stiffness can increase up to 36%.