During the last decades, surgeons endeavored to reduce the invasiveness of procedures. Reducing the surgical trauma drastically led to a shortening of hospitalization with an overall reduction in post-surgical complications. The introduction of minimally invasive surgery (MIS), where instruments are introduced into the body through millimeter sized keyholes, pushed technology to develop ever smaller tools without a loss of functionality. The quest for high-tech surgical tools became even more stringent when surgeons started to use natural orifices as access points to the internal body (NOTES). As such, there is a vast medical need for small surgical instruments that are able to navigate through the human body, that are inherently safe but still have functional end effectors.
Soft robotic actuators are especially interesting to be used in tools for MIS and NOTES. The advantage of using soft actuator materials is that, when in contact with biological tissue, the soft actuator cannot impose detrimental stresses. As such, safety limits do not have to be imposed by software algorithms, but they are inherently present in the hardware of the robot. To show the possibility of using elastic inflatable actuators in MIS and NOTES, we are developing a soft robotic endoscope with chip-on-tip camera (NanEye by Awaiba) and bending degree of freedom. The developed device can be seen on the video below, being applied in a mock-up surgical procedure to visualize the eye retina.