Minimally invasive surgery techniques have gone far over the past few decades, but they still have limitations that scientists are working to overcome. Laser micro surgery, for instance, leaves minimal peripheral tissue damage, but it can only be used on parts of the body within the laser’s line of sight. Meanwhile, surgery using flexible robotics can access hard-to-reach areas, but they can damage surrounding tissue. Now, a team of robotic engineers from Harvard University’s Wyss Institute have developed a way to bring their strengths together by designing a laser-steering microrobot that can be attached to a flexible surgical devices, such as colonoscopes.
The team evaluated currently available laser devices and found that they’re too big, don’t have the range of motion needed or aren’t powerful enough. They wanted to design a device that’s roughly the diameter of a drinking straw, and they were able to achieve that — the resulting device is 6 mm in diameter and 16 mm in length — using a configuration with three small mirrors. That design gives it a wide range of motion, so surgeons can operate on lesions of various sizes. In addition, the laser has a high bandwidth, which enables it to cut tissue faster and minimize damage.