Lab News

Harvard Magazine
Our work on medical robots is featured in Harvard Magazine.
[more info]

Continuum Robots for Medical Interventions
Our invited review of the field is published by the Proceedings of the IEEE.
[more info]

Science Robotics review of the decade's advances in medical robotics
Leading researchers in medical robotics identify the field's collective accomplishments.
[more info]

Autonomous Robots Are Coming to the Operating Room
Our work is featured in the Wall Street Journal's Future of Everything
[more info]

Tiny robots could help infants with rare diseases. Watch one in action
Our robotic implant published in Science Robotics is featured in Science Magazine News.
[more info]

Hamlyn Symposium Workshop
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.
[more info]

Lab Alum Wins NSF Career Award
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
Our research on MRI-powered Gauss guns is featured in IEEE Spectrum.
[more info]

21st-century medicine: Gauss guns, magic bullets, and magnetic millibot surgeons
Our research on MRI-powered Gauss guns is featured in ExtremeTech.
[more info]

ICRA Best Medical Robotics Paper / Best Conference Paper Finalist
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.

[all news]

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.