Lab News

Tiny robots could help infants with rare diseases. Watch one in action (January 2018)
Our robotic implant published in Science Robotics is featured in Science Magazine News.
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Hamlyn Symposium Workshop (June 2017)
We are organizing a workshop at the 2017 Hamlyn Symposium for Medical Robotics entitled First in Human consisting of a series of personal narratives by researchers who have taken their work from the lab bench to human trials.
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Lab Alum Wins NSF Career Award (January 2016)
Aaron Becker, now an Assistant Professor at U. Houston received an NSF Career Award for his proposal entitled Massive Uniform Manipulation: Algorithmic and Control Theoretic Foundations for Large Populations of Simple Robots Controlled by Uniform Inputs

Self-Assembling Robotic Gun Will Shoot Through Tissue Inside Your Body (June 2015)
Our research on MRI-powered Gauss guns is featured in IEEE Spectrum.
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21st-century medicine: Gauss guns, magic bullets, and magnetic millibot surgeons (June 2015)
Our research on MRI-powered Gauss guns is featured in ExtremeTech.
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ICRA Best Medical Robotics Paper / Best Conference Paper Finalist (April 2015)
Our paper, Toward Tissue Penetration by MRI-powered Millirobots Using a Self-Assembled Gauss Gun, by A. Becker, O. Felfoul and P. Dupont, was named a finalist for the Best Medical Robotics Paper and Best Conference Paper Awards at IEEE ICRA 2015.

CyborgRx: How Smart Implants Could Change Medicine (February 2015)
Our research on robotic implants is cited on NBC News.
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Heart ops shrink thanks to surgeon in your vein (October 2014)
Our research on beating heart intracardiac surgery is featured in New Scientist.
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Lab Member Ali Ataollahi is Co-Winner of Boston Children’s Hospital Shark Tank Competition (October 2014)
Ali and cardiology fellow, Sarah Goldberg, were first place co-winners for their device to automate disinfection of central line catheter hubs.
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IROS Best Paper Award (September 2014)
Our paper, Simultaneously Powering and Controlling Many Actuators With a Clinical MRI Scanner, by A. Becker, O. Felfoul and P. Dupont received the Best Paper Award at IEEE/RSJ IROS 2014.

The 7th NCIGT and NIH Image Guided Therapy Workshop (September 2014)
Our abstract, MRI-Powered, imaged and controlled actuators for interventional robots, by O. Felfoul et al. has been accepted for oral presentation at the 7th Annual Image-Guided Therapy workshop sponsored by the National Center for Image Guided Therapy (NCIGT) and the NIH that will be held on September 18, 2014.
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IDEA Users Group Meeting (July 2014)
Our work on Closed-Loop Real-Time Commutation Control of an MRI-Powered Robot Actuator was presented July 20, 2014 at the North American IDEA Users Group Meeting hosted by the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging.
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ICRA Best Medical Robotics Paper Finalist (June 2014)
Our paper, FBG-based Shape Sensing Tubes for Continuum Robots, by S. Ryu and P. Dupont was named a finalist for the Best Medical Robotics Paper Award at IEEE ICRA 2014.

ICRA 2014 Workshop (June 2014)
We co-organized a workshop at ICRA 2014 entitled Advances in Flexible Robots for Surgical Interventions.
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At Children’s Hospital, engineer is a key post (October 2013)
Our work on esophageal atresia is featured in the Boston Globe.
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IET Webinar on Robotics for Ultra-minimally Invasive Surgery(April 2013)
Dr. Dupont was featured in a recent webinar by the Institute of Engineering and Technology.
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ICRA Best Medical Robotics Paper Finalist (April 2013)
Our paper, Closed-Loop Commutation Control of an MRI-Powered Robot Actuator by C. Bergeles et al., was nominated a finalist for the Best Medical Robotics Paper Award at IEEE ICRA 2013.

Technology Review (June 2012)
Our research on robotic beating-heart surgery is featured on the Technology Review website.
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ICRA Best Medical Robotics Paper Award (May 2012)
Our paper entitled Metal MEMS Tools for Beating-heart Tissue Removal by A. Gosline et al. received the Best Medical Robotics Paper Award at IEEE ICRA 2012.

IROS 2012 Workshop (May 2012)
Our group is organizing a workshop at IEEE/RSJ IROS 2012 entitled Magnetically Actuated Multiscale Medical Robots.
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Our Robots Make the Fashion Scene in NYC (April 2012)
Our robots were invited to show off their moves in the Big Apple at Shoe & Tell.
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ISMRM Summa Cum Laude Merit Award (April 2012)
Our abstract, A Closed-Loop MRI-Power actuator for Robotic Interventions by L. Qin et al., received a Summa Cum Laude Merit Award for being a student authored abstract scoring in the top 3% of all submitted abstracts at ISMRM 2012.

IROS Best Conference Paper Finalist (September 2011)
Our paper, MRI-Powered Actuators for Robotic Interventions by P. Vartholomeos et al., was a finalist for the Best Conference Paper Award at IEEE.RSJ IROS 2011.

Two ICRA Best Medical Robotics Paper Finalists (May 2011)
Two of our papers, Metal MEMS Tools for Beating-heart Tissue Approximation by E. Butler et al. and Design Optimization of Concentric Tube Robots Based on Task and Anatomical Constraints by C. Bedell et al., were named finalists for the Best Medical Robotics Paper Award at IEEE ICRA 2011.

King-Sun Fu TRO Best Paper Award (May 2011)
Our paper, Design and Control of Concentric Tube Robots by P. E. Dupont et al., was selected as the best paper of the IEEE Transactions on Robotics for 2010.

Director Named IEEE Fellow (November 2010)
Pierre E. Dupont was named a 2011 IEEE Fellow for his contributions to modeling and control of frictional contact in robotics.

TEDMED 2010 (October 2010)
Our concentric tube robots traveled to San Diego for TEDMED 2010.
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ICRA 2010 Workshop (May 2010)
Our group organized a workshop at ICRA 2010 entitled Snakes, Worms, and Catheters: Continuum and Serpentine Robots for Minimally Invasive Surgery.

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Robotic Implants

We are proposing a new class of medical devices that we call robotic implants. These devices are comprised of robots designed to autonomously regulate biological processes inside the body. Potential benefits of these devices include restoration of degraded or missing biological functionality, induction of tissue growth, as well as a reduction in the number of surgeries necessary to treat a patient with a chronic condition. These devices may move through the body or reside in one location and employ their degrees of freedom to interact with tissue structures. For example, they could automatically regulate flow resistance in the vasculature or adjust the length and compliance of tissues.

A specific pediatric application is the treatment of long gap esophageal atresia. This is a congenital defect in which a portion of the esophagus is missing (see Figure). We are developing a robotic implant to apply traction forces to the two disconnected esophageal segments to induce sufficient tissue growth so that the two ends can be joined together to form a functioning esophagus. In contrast to the current manual method of externally applied traction forces, the implant offers the potential to avoid multi-week patient paralysis and sedation while substantially reducing treatment time and cost.

This technology can be licensed from Boston Children's Hospital.

Concentric Tube Robots

Minimally invasive medical procedures involve the manipulation of sensors, tools and prosthetic devices inside the body while minimizing damage to surrounding tissue structures. In many cases, navigation to the surgical site involves steering the delivery instrument along three-dimensional curves through tissue to avoid bony or sensitive structures (percutaneous procedures), or following the interior contours of a body orifice (e.g., the nasal passages) or body cavity (e.g., the heart). Once at the surgical site, it is often necessary to control the position and orientation of the instrument’s distal tip while holding relatively immobile the proximal inserted length.

A novel approach to constructing robots for such applications is based on concentrically combining pre-curved elastic tubes. By rotating and extending the tubes with respect to each other, their curvatures interact elastically to position and orient the robot’s tip, as well as control the robot’s shape along its length. In this approach, the flexible tubes comprise both the links and the joints of the robot. Since the actuators attach to the tubes at their proximal end, the robot itself forms a slender curve that is well suited for minimally invasive medical procedures. Our research encompasses the design, modeling and real-time control of this robot technology. We are also designing tip-mounted actuated tools for beating-heart intracardiac surgery.

This technology can be licensed from Boston University.

MEMS Surgical Instruments

While tools for minimally invasive surgery are often needed at the millimeter scale, most manufacturing technologies are not well suited to this length scale. In this research, we are exploring the practicality of using a metal microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology for constructing devices for surgery inside the heart. In this approach, wafer-scale batch processing can produce fully-assembled devices composed of traditional mechanical components such as gears, screws and springs. We are teaming with Microfabrica, Inc. to design and test a toolbox of devices and implants for tissue removal and tissue approximation.

3D Ultrasound Tracking and Servoing of Surgical Instruments

Ultrasound imaging is a useful modality for guiding minimally invasive interventions due to its portability and safety. In cardiac surgery, for example, real-time 3D ultrasound imaging is being investigated for guiding repairs of complex defects inside the beating heart. Substantial difficulty can arise, however, when surgical instruments and tissue structures are imaged simultaneously to achieve precise manipulations. This research project includes: (1) the development of echogenic instrument coatings, (2) the design of passive instrument markers, and (3) the development of algorithms for instrument tracking and servoing. For example, a family of passive markers has been developed by which the position and orientation of a surgical instrument can be determined from a single 3D ultrasound volume using simple image processing. Marker-based estimates of instrument pose can be used in augmented reality displays or for image-based servoing.

While prior detection and tracking algorithms can be applied only to straight-shafted instruments, our most recent work focuses on the detection and tracking of curved continuum robots, e.g., concentric tube robots.

MRI-Powered Robot Actuators

Magnetic resonance imaging provides high quality images of soft tissue without the use of ionizing radiation. Its use for robotic interventional procedures is challenging, however, due to the incompatibility of standard actuation technologies with the high magnetic fields produced within the scanner and the complexity of alternate compatible technologies. An alternative approach is to create an actuator that can be both powered and controlled using the MRI scanner itself. We have designed and demonstrated such an actuator in a clinical MRI scanner. Our current research on this topic involves improving actuator design, developing state estimators and achieving closed loop control. We are also investigating a variety of clinical applications for this technology.

MRI-Powered Millirobot Swarms

There are many examples of minimally invasive surgery in which tethered robots are incapable of accurately reaching target locations deep inside the body either because they are too large and result in tissue damage or because the tortuosity of the path leads to loss of tip control. In these situations, groups of small untethered magnetically-powered robots may hold the potential to act as a network of sensors or as delivery vehicles for therapeutic agents. While prior work has focused on controlling a single robot with MRI, our focus is on the development of techniques for individually controlling groups of millimeter- and micron-scale swimming robots. We are also working on functionalizing our robots for specific clinical applications.

Click here to access archived projects.