Robots: Humans' Dependable Helpers

Research and Development in Robotic Systems

STIMULATE Research Campus

At the STIMULATE research campus, interdisciplinary teams are researching and developing image-guided minimally invasive methods of diagnostics and therapy for illnesses highly relevant to society. The Fraunhofer is completing the two subprojects, “iMRI Manipulator” and “Tactile Sensor Systems”, in the priority topic “Instruments” of the preliminary phase.

iMRI Manipulator

© Fraunhofer IFF

At the STIMULATE research campus, the Fraunhofer IFF developed a concept for a manipulator that facilitates minimally-invasive surgery in an MRI scanner taking scans. The advantage of this special form of surgery is the surgeon’s ability to insert and move minimally invasive surgical instruments in a patient’s tissue during the operation and based on a live image.

The Fraunhofer IFF designed an MRI compatible manipulator in close consultation with neuroradiologists at Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg. It has all the degrees of freedom necessary to move minimally invasive surgical instruments such as biopsy needles inside an MRI scanner and patients. The manipulator is assembled on the patient table. The standard model also provides sufficient options for attachment. The manipulator does not have any drive system. It is moved or controlled either manually or by a robot outside the MRI scanner. Control levers are provided for manual operation. The surgeon’s movements are transmitted directly to the surgical instrument in the MRI scanner. The manipulator can be operated automatically when a robot is connected to it.

Given its slim design and absence of active components, any expected interference with an MRI is minimal. What is more, the manipulator can be retrofitted for any installed MRI scanner. Thus, older MRI scanners can also be retrofitted without any problem. At present, the Fraunhofer IFF is planning to build a prototype based on the concept devised.

Tactile Sensor Systems for Safe and Intuitive Human-Robot Interaction

Another focus of the work completed at the Fraunhofer IFF as part of the STIMULATE research campus was “Tactile Sensor Systems on Robots”. The goal was to design novel solutions based on tactile sensors that simplify interaction and optimize medical robots’ safety systems.

Siemens’ robotic angiography system “Artis zeego” served as the target and demonstration platform for this work. An integral part of the solutions developed are innovative tactile sensor systems that can be employed as a pressure-sensitive skin directly on the surface of the robot or as pressure-sensitive flooring around the robot. This enables a robot to sense and appropriately respond to contact as well as the presence of people in its vicinity.

These tactile sensor systems constitute the technological basis for novel, contact-based interaction metaphors and optimized path planning and safety strategies. Unlike classic optical sensor systems, the tactile flooring is unaffected by ambient influences and fully free of obstructions. Thus, people and objects in the robot’s vicinity can be reliably detected in every mode of operation. Through their appropriate material selection and surface design, the sensor systems designed by the Fraunhofer IFF meet the demands for medical work environments.