'Rubbery robots' could hold the key to safer surgery

Reports on the effectiveness of robotic surgery have been conflicting, with some touting its success, and others saying it shouldn't be used at all. While the rigid nature of such tools has a lot to do with persistent opinions supporting the latter viewpoint, a Boston start-up company aims to change all of that, Scientific American reports.

The start-up--Soft Robotics, Inc.--is looking to develop "rubbery robots" for use in surgery and other biomedical applications. Its developers are using technology created at Harvard University's Whitesides Research Group, and to date, group's most well-known creation is a "squishy, X-shaped quadruped made from elastomers [stretchy plastics]" and controlled by compressed air.

Carl Vause, CEO of Soft Robotics, tells Scientific American that such robots could use rubbery appendages to reduce surgical damage. "Specifically," he said, "with medical devices, [you would be] allowing a robotic instrument to get into a small space, be reconfigurable in that space and do it in a way that's tissue compliant." The rubber robots can be 3-D printed in one day from silicone and other materials at a much lower cost than regular robots, according to the article.

What's more, the aforementioned appendages require no feedback mechanism telling them how much force to apply, Scientific American reports.

Research published earlier this month in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology found that robotic procedures cost substantially more than laparoscopic cases of hysterectomy, despite no apparent safety benefits.

Meanwhile in March, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said that robotic surgery for hysterectomies should not be a first or even second choice for women undergoing routine procedures, due, in part, to the learning curve associated with the robotic system.

To learn more:
- read the article in Scientific American

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