Endoscopes are widely used in hospitals for the diagnosis and treatment of the disgestive tract, e.g., stomach and colon. A conventional endoscope is normally externally pushed into the tortuous digestive tract by the doctor and thus the endoscope slides inside the body with friction, which fundamentally results in uncomfortable procedures, trauma, tissue damage, as well as limitations on maneuverability and reachable organs.
To address the above issues rooted from friction, this project will develop a flexible endoscope that can frictionlessly navigate deep inside the human body by employing an emerging type of bio-inspired soft robots—Soft Growing Robots (SGRs). SGRs can frictionlessly navigate in a curved and narrow environment by mimicking the growth of plants. During growth, the plant lengthens its tip with its main body being stationary relative to the environment. An SGR mimics this process by everting its inner material out to lengthen its body at the tip while the remaining part of the body does not move with respect to the environment; hence, there is no friction (as there is no sliding motion) between the environment and the SGR’s main body. Different from conventional push-type endoscopes, SGR-based endoscopes will enable frictionless navigation deep inside the human body, which is potential to significantly reduce trauma and pain to patients and meanwhile improve the maneuverability and reach of these devices.
In this project, we will develop a SGR-based endoscope that can grow, steer, retract inside the colon along with other necessary medical tools (imaging, irrigation, insufflation, and suction). The robot will be thoroughly tested in lab-bench/ex-vivo/in-vivo tests. Students are expected to collaborate with medical doctors and industrial parteners. This will be an excellent opportunity for students to gain experience of developing world-leading medical robots that can make a real difference for the healthcare of patients.