Tiny Surgical Robots

Small robotic surgical tools are rapidly increasing their capability to aid doctors in surgical procedures. The Robotics Society of Japan estimates that sometime between 2025 and 2050, these small automatons will become capable of conducting entire medical operations.

Tiny robots used in surgical procedures

Makoto Nokata, associate professor of the College of Science and Engineering at Ritsumeikan University in Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture, is attempting to design a fingertip-sized robot that would move inside the body to conduct checkups and surgeries. Unlike capsule endoscopes, which enter via the mouth and exit the body when a patient has a bowel movement, Nokata envisions a robot that would remain inside the body for an extended period.

The robot would be maneuvered inside a patient via magnets surrounding the body – a technique similar to that used in computerized tomography. The robot would move based on changes in the magnets’ poles. In an experiment conducted two years ago, a robot inserted into a hare’s groin moved via the abdominal cavity to the liver. Nokata said he was inspired by the 1966 U.S. science fiction movie “Fantastic Voyage.” In the movie, a submarine carrying a medical team is made small enough to enter the human body and move around inside.

“With the robot inside (the body), patients don’t need incisions when further surgery or tissue examination become necessary,” Nokata said.

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