Developed in 2013-2014, diameter 5 mm, steering range: ±150º in all directions.
Nature exhibits two inherently different approaches for creating maneuverable structures: the endo- or exoskeleton approach, and the hydrostatic skeleton approach. An endo- or exoskeleton is a rigid structure connected by joints that enable motion, for example in our own body. A hydrostatic skeleton, however, is a compliant structure solely contructed out of soft tissues, for example in the tentacle of a squid or in the trunk of an elephant.
Conventional steerable designs, based on rigid links and hinged mechanisms, are best comparable with nature’s endo- or exoskeleton approach. These conventional designs have proven to be highly effective at large dimensions, as for example in the scales of an excavator. At the smaller dimensions needed for minimally invasive surgery, however, the fabrication of such hinged structures becomes increasingly difficult.
The muscular hydrostatic skeleton in the arms of Loliginid squid consists out of differently orientated muscle layers (see Figure). Simultaneous contraction of these muscle layers results in a flexible, fluent motion. This led to the development of a new principle of steering via simultaneous actuation of multiple, differently orientated cable layers.
Inspired by nature’s hydrostatic skeleton approach, the multi-maneuvrable tip of the HelixFlex consists of a single compliant segment, and incorporates three different cable layers: one with parallel cables and two with helically-oriented cables. Simultanuous actuation of these cable layers is accomplished via a similarly shaped joystick in the handle of the instrument. By manually controlling this joystick, the user can control the movement of HelixFlex’ tip in four Degrees of Freedom, resulting in a fluent motion that greatly reflects the motion of squid tentacles (see movie).
To our knowledge, the HelixFlex is the first instrument that uses simultaneous actuation of parallel- and helical-routed cable layers, and therefore a patent is pending.
- Henselmans P.W.J. (2020). Mechanical Snakes – Path Following Instruments for Minimally Invasive Surgery. PhD-thesis, TU Delft, ISBN 978-94-6402-213-1, 177 p.
- Gerboni, G., Henselmans, P.W.J., Arkenbout, E.A., van Furth, W.R., Breedveld, P. (2015), “HelixFlex: A Bioinspired Maneuverable Instrument for Skull Base Surgery.”Bioinspiration & Biomimetics 10, no. 6, 066013