Final STIFF-FLOP Review Meeting: A great success
STIFF-FLOP held their final review meeting at King’s College London on 11 December 2015, under the watchful eye of Project Officer, Dr Michel Brochard.
Four new project evaluators from academia and industry offered their expertise, helped to evaluate this project, and shared their ideas on future technologies and exploitation opportunities in the area of soft, stiffness-controllable surgical instruments:
New pneumatically actuated gripper and miniaturized STIFF-FLOP arm
Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (SSSA) has been working on the optimization and integration of the multi-module STIFF-FLOP manipulator and on the development of the end effector tool. The work on the multi-module manipulator included the optimization of the module structure integrating fibre-reinforced chambers for the bending/elongation of each section and additional chambers for the stiffening modulation based on the principle of granular jamming.
The developed end effector tool is a pneumatically actuated gripper which involves the same soft actuator approach used for the actuation chambers of the modules.
XIII Medical Robots 2015 International Conference – Zabrze
XIII Conference on Medical Robots 2015 addressed issues related to the implementation of robots in many kinds of medical applications.
New projects in the field of surgical robots, diagnostic, welfare and rehabilitation, implemented in Poland and international projects were presented. Furthermore, experience in using commercial robots was shared, and experts of surgery discussed the use of robots in practice.
World’s first soft-robotic surgery on a human body
On 13 October 2015, KCL, EAES, PIAP, SSSA and UNITO representatives met at the Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (IMSaT) in Dundee, UK, for a one-day session on human cadavers. The team of engineers installed the entire STIFF-FLOP system including a multi-segment octopus-like robot equipped with a camera and associated software. At IMSaT all cadavers are routinely prepared by the so-called Thiel method which preserves humans in a very life-like, realistic state with regards to appearance and mechanical soft tissue properties.
Controlling The Stiffness
Controlling stiffness is critical in procedures using soft surgical robots. In the final year of the STIFF-FLOP project, the University of Surrey developed a methodology to characterise the tuneable dynamic stiffness matrix and demonstrated its use for rejecting lateral and normal disturbances. This method of disturbance rejection was employed in conjunction with granular jamming to maintain the tip position of a three-segment STIFF-FLOP robot.
It is noted that this algorithm can be extended to multi-module soft robots. The research conducted by UoS verified why the reduction of stiffness at the tip is preferred for safety whilst greater stiffness is essential to undertake efficient tissue manipulation with surgical tools.
Furthermore, information on the forces exerted at the distal end of the robot manipulator and appropriate feedback control improved the robustness of motion of the system and contributed to the improvement of robot-environment interaction safety through precise manipulation.
New RoNeX modules
The Shadow Robot Company has developed new prototype modules for RoNeX with a view to extending the RoNeX range beyond the existing Bridge and GIO modules already commercially available.
New model for the Forward Kinematics of the STIFF-FLOP arm
A new model has been proposed by PIAP for defining the Forward Kinematics of the flexible modules of our STIFF-FLOP robot arm. The model enables the estimation of the positions of the flexible modules, using as inputs: the pressures in the chambers and the external forces exerted onto the STIFF-FLOP arm. This new Forward Kinematics have been adjusted to be exploited to compute the generic Inverse Kinematics framework that deduces the appropriate system configuration needed for reaching a targeted tip position and orientation in space.
Soft Architecture Machines at the Bartlett School of Architecture
King’s College London and the University College London (UCL) organised a joint workshop on Soft Architecture Machines for postgraduate students at the Bartlett School for Architecture. The event was introduced by a brief historical overview of Soft Architecture Machines. Researchers from King’s demonstrated how to sew inflatable manipulators and create moulds for silicone-based robots, providing the UCL students with expertise and know-how on the manufacture of soft robots gained in the framework of the STIFF-FLOP project. Students tweeted their work using #softerarch.
Subsequently to the STIFF-FLOP Autumn School, EURO-NOTES took place in Turin . All participants of the STIFF-FLOP autumn school were invited to attend EURO-NOTES.
Soft surgical robotics at CLAWAR 2016
The 19th International Conference on Climbing and Walking Robots and Support Technologies for Mobile Machines (CLAWAR 2016), will be held in London, UK, September 12 – 14, 2016.
Autumn School on Soft and Flexible Surgical Robotics 2015
The Stiff-Flop Autumn School 2015 has been conducted in Torino November 9th – 13th. The event was designed to bring researchers, scientists, physicians and PhD students in the field of surgical robotics together to move forward in the arena of surgical robotics.
Cadaver Tests Initiated
On September 4th, 2015 Alberto Arezzo representing UNITO and Marco Allaix, representing EAES, visited the Institute for Medical Science and Technology (IMSaT) of the University of Dundee, Dundee, Scotland, directed by Prof. Andreas Melzer.
Release of Newsletter D6.2.4
The STIFF-FLOP consortium collected updates on the current progress of the project in the latest Newsletter D6.2.4 which is now available on the website in the NEWSLETTER section.
Release of Newsletter D6.3.3.
The STIFF-FLOP consortium collected updates on the current progress of the project in the latest Newsletter D6.3.3 which is now available on the website in the NEWSLETTER section.
Demonstration of the integrated system
The STIFF-FLOP consortium successfully demonstrated an integrated STIFF-FLOP system in September 2014. Prof. Peter Brett (Reviewer) visited the CoRe Lab at King’s College London to examine the latest progress.
Optimization of the multi modular manipulator
Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (SSSA) worked on the optimization and performance evaluation of the multi-module STIFF‐FLOP manipulator.
Biologically inspired probabilistic models
Biological inspiration within the STIFF-FLOP robot aims at learning from the octopus strategies to control the highly redundant arm. Motions such as reaching for food can be used to test the representation capability of the developed model, which could then be re-used to encode other types of skills within the surgical environment.
The Console – Design Concept And First Tele-Test
FRK’s concept of a control console is based on a user-interface to control the position of the end effector of the STIFF-FLOP robot arm and a system of feedback information regarding the position and forces created during robot tool-environment interaction; preparing new ground in haptics, operator worn sleeves are integrated with pneumatic or vibrating actuators to relay collisions between the robot arm and the environment to the surgeon.
News from the University of Surrey
The STIFF-FLOP consortium successfully demonstrated the integration of the large-scale system using two flexible modules and validated its performance in real-time for an ex-vivo tissue ablation case study. The two optimised STIFF-FLOP modules are integrated with position and force sensors.
Control model for the STIFF-FLOP arm
The motions capacities and reachable positions of the STIFF-FLOP arm are clearly depending on the bending capacities of the flexible modules and on the number of flexible and controllable modules embedded within the STIFF-FLOP arm. Adding more flexible modules can be considered as a mean of increasing the reachable space by the arm. Nevertheless the addition of modules is not the only solution for doing so.
2:1 scaled phantom models in frontal plane
FRK created a novel phantom model based on the anatomical shape of the human abdomen – a new feature is that the abdominal surface is made from PET (Politereftalan etylen) with different thickness and different numbers of layers adapted to optimally emulate the mechanical properties of the abdominal area of a patient.
Stiff-Flop data fusion system
PIAP advanced methods for sensor fusion over the last year. Since soft manipulators have no rigid links, the modelling of their shape is not trivial. Soft manipulators can bend at any point, twist and elongate as well. External forces can act at any point of the arm and its deformation is distributed not only at discrete points. The above causes the previously used shape calculating algorithms to be insufficient and, because of that, new methods had to be developed.
Inflatable robot at King’s CoRe
King’s CoRe has explored a new hybrid actuation principle combining pneumatic and tendon-driven actuators for a soft robotic manipulator. The fusion of these two actuation principles leads to an overall antagonistic actuation mechanism whereby pneumatic actuation opposes tendon actuation – a mechanism commonly found in animals where muscles can oppose each other to vary joint stiffness.
New design approach
The Industrial Research Institute for Automation and Measurements (PIAP) has designed, developed and tested a novel actuation solution for the Stiff-Flop project. The previous design relying on external braiding to limit the chamber expansion caused a lot of issues with regards to position sensing as well as actuation.
Virtual model of the STIFF-FLOP arm
The Foundation of Cardaic Surgery Dvelopment (FRK) has been active in creating virtual models representing the human abdomen as well as the STIFF-FLOP arm. Virtual Reality Technology is an interdisciplinary technology, integrating CAD/CAM technology, artificial intelligence, computer networking and sensor technology. It is widely used in the design and testing of mechanical models.
Exciting News from the Shadow Robot Company
Having taken the STIFF-FLOP integration platform and turned it into a CE/EMC certified product, Shadow has now got the RoNeX hardware in production. There has been significant interest from educators wanting to use it as a platform to teach robotics with ROS, as well as uptake from robot designers looking to use RoNeX to speed up their own hardware and systems development.
Shadow’s R&D team is very excited by the potential, and is using RoNeX actively in new development projects, and exploring new module types.
Physical-based Model Inverse Kinematics
An inverse kinematics function of a manipulator is normally required for the control if its tip. It provides manipulator configurations that allow the manipulator tip to reach desired positions. The configuration, depending on the manipulator structure can be, for example, its joint angles, segment lengths or input pressures.
British Science Festival
In September 2014, the British Science Association held the British Science Festival in Birmingham, in partnership with the University of Birmingham and in association with Birmingham City Council and Birmingham City University and our headline sponsor Siemens. During this year’s Festival, STIFF-FLOP was demonstrated as an example for research at the forefront of scientific and technological advancement.
Block Review Meeting 2015
Release of Newsletter D6.2.3
The STIFF-FLOP consortium collected updates on the current progress of the project in the latest Newsletter D6.2.3 which is now available on the website in the NEWSLETTER section.
Why octopus arms don’t stick together?
“Octopus arms have a built-in mechanism that prevents the suckers from grabbing octopus skin,” says Guy Levy (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), the lead author of the work, which appears today in . Their article has received a huge interest from the media such as Nature , The Guardian , The Telegraph , Daily Mail , IBT , The Scientist , National Geographic , The Verge , International Science Times , Arutz Sheva .
European Surgical Robotics Demonstration Day
For decades, advances in training, medication, sensing and instrumentation have progressed surgical techniques. Nowadays robotics are being looked at as the next means to further increase surgical precision, improve efficiency and push boundaries of surgical skill.
Currently still US-dominated, the European Union through its 7th Framework Program, is supporting research to catch up and overtake the lead in this strategic and highly dynamic domain.
Workshop on vision and integration
All project partners were invited to the STIFF-FLOP workshop organised by the University of Siegen (USIEGEN). The workshop was held 21th – 25th October 2013 in Siegen, Germany. The opportunity of meeting all project partners was used to arrange a scientific and technical management meeting.
Release of Newsletter D6.3.2
The STIFF-FLOP consortium collected updates on the current progress of the project in the latest Newsletter D6.3.2 which is now available on the website in the NEWSLETTER section.
Education – the important way to clinical application
Mission of Foundation of Cardiac Surgery Development is introduction into clinical practice modern techniques and technologies for heart diseases treatment. But it is also a famous educational center.
First benchmarking experiments
King’s College and Tecnalia conducted the first benchmarking experiments of the Stiff-Flop concept, to analyze the behavior of the system when interacting with its environment. As illustrated on the figure, the system tested was composed of a arm composed of two flexible structures, mounted onto a vertical support. By controlling the pressures in the chambers of the module(s), the arm gets into contact with an obstacle, and the magnitude of the contact forces is measured. Experiments were performed by augmenting the pressure in one (bending) or all chambers (elongation) of the module.
Towards a position-based control
A joint integration work of IIT, Shadow and Tecnalia permitted to implement a first version of robot tip position control in the stiff-flop architecture. An inverse kinematic framework enables to deduce from a targeted tip location the needed modules configuration, under the constant curvature assumption.Each module desired configuration can then be transmitted to each module controller, in charge of computing the appropriate combination of pressures in the chambers.
Development of a multi-module STIFF‐FLOP manipulator
Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (SSSA) worked on the development of a multi-module STIFF‐FLOP manipulator.
Robots run wild in London
London’s Science Museum hosted a three-day festival dedicated to robots inspired by nature. A video can be found here: BBC News
(STIFF-FLOP can be found at 1:39)
5 cool robots the EU is funding
It’s EU Robotics Week time again. For the third consecutive year, the achievements of Europe’s researchers and inventors working in robotics are celebrated in over 300 events from November 25th to December 1st. Here are some examples of the best EU-funded Robotics projects: 5 cool robots the EU is funding
STIFF-FLOP goes wild during Robot Safari (EU)
This November, Robot SafariEU at the Science Museum will explore the fascinating world of biomimetic robots. Beginning on Wednesday 27th November at Lates and continuing over the weekend (30 Nov – 1 Dec), visitors can trek through the un-natural habitats of these robots, interacting with creatures that swim, flap, and crawl, in a unique safari experience.
EAES International Congress
The EAES invited the STIFF-FLOP Project Coordinator Prof. Kaspar Althoefer to give a keynote speech at their 2013 International Congress.
Prof. Althoefer was talking about „Flexible Robot Manipulators for MIS: Initial Developments and Considerations“ . After being one 18 months into the STIFF-FLOP project, the latest developments were presented to the European endoscopic surgeons. Hence, Prof. Althoefer emphasized on the benefits of the flexible and soft STIFF-FLOP manipulator to the traditional rigid laparoscopic and robotic keyhole surgery. STIFF-FLOP’s novelties such as the intelligent control and learning as well as the sensing system were part of his lecture.
The current work in WP4 is focused on the real-time controller design of the single module. The system involves three controllers that work at different levels:
– Low level: Pressure control with close loop
– Middle level: Coarsely controlling the bending/shape with a kinematic open loop
– High level: Finely controlling the bending/shape with Model Predictive Control (MPC)
Stiff Flop dealt with several candidate technologies for the development of an actuating arm to be used in minimally invasive surgery. The technologies under investigation ranged from smart materials such as shape memory alloys, as well as pneumatic and hydraulic driven hyper-elastic silicone. Prototypes were fabricated and tested with primary interest of the use of pneumatically actuated soft silicone.
STIFF-FLOP members met the OCTOPUS project
Cecilia Laschi and Matteo Cianchetti from SSSA demonstrated how the OCTOPUS robot works and explained how it could one day be used for tasks such as repairing underwater structures like oil pipelines and ships’ hulls to performing search-and-rescue operations – venturing into places too dangerous for humans! The event was held at the Science Museum in London.(October 31, 2012)
The STIFF-FLOP project is inspired by the octopus and SSSA is a partner within the new EU FP7 project led by Professor Kaspar Althoefer, King’s College London.
Recruitment of 2 RAs and 1 PhD student
Over 15 applicants for the PhD stipend and over 45 academic researchers were interested in working for STIFF-FLOP at the Centre for Robotics Research, Department of Informatics, King’s College London during the coming 3 years.
Centre for Robotics Research launched a new website
The Centre for Robotics Research launched a new website in October 2012. Next to Prof. Kaspar Althoefer, Prof. Lakmal Seneviratne, Dr Thrishantha Nanayakkara and Dr Hongbin Liu, CoRe members also include Prof. Jian Dai, Dr H.-K. Lam, and Dr Michael Spratling and their research teams. STIFF-FLOP is one of the featured EU projects on the new CoRe website.
STIFF-FLOP attends EU Robotics PPP MoU signing
On 18th September, the European Commission took the historic step of signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the newly-formed EU Robotics AISBL. STIFF-FLOP partners Shadow Robot Company were there, and able to demonstrate the first prototypes of the STIFF-FLOP integration platform.
The neurophysiological basis of motor function in the octopus
An analysis of the neurobiology of motor control in the octopus must consider the octopus‘ special morphology.
Integration Platform Hardware Overview
The STIFF-FLOP hardware integration platform is a universal system for connecting input and output components to a PC running the Robot Operating System (ROS).
The connection is made via EtherCAT which allows for fast, high bandwidth, real time communication between the ROS software components and the attached hardware.
Seminar “Haptics for Education and Training in Dentistry”
A seminar in the field of “Haptics” was held at King’s College London on May 29th, 2012. The purpose was to exchange experience between the Centre of Flexible Learning in Dentistry who is involved in the project hapTEL™ and Prof. Kaspar Althoefer’s research team which is with the Centre for Robotics Research.
Seminar “da Vinci based Surgery and da Vinci Try-out”
The workshop took place on 12th March 2012 at King’s College London and Guy’s Hospital, London.
Prof. Prokar Dasgupta kindly arranged a visit for the STIFF-FLOP consortium so that researchers were able to watch a live surgery based on the da Vinci robot and have some hands-on two days after the visit at his theatre. During the surgery, Prof. Dasgupta explained the procedure of the prostate surgery. He indicated the weakness of the da Vinci system and emphasised the challenges of STIFF-FLOP how to improve surgical robots in MIS.
Real progress through virtual worlds
In the context of robotics, simulation brings the possibility of starting considering, implementing and validating control law even if the physical robotic system is not ready to be used. It is also considered as a convenient tool for development and validation, as a first stage before real deployment onto physical prototypes.
These aspects have motivated the Stiff-Flop project to consider the modeling of the robotic arm in a simulated environment. We are indeed considering the use of the SOFA framework (Simulation Open Framework Architecture) to realize this simulation. SOFA is an open source environment developed by INRIA, and dedicated to the real-time simulation of physical interaction in between elements, principally for medical applications.
Good progress in design of Octopus arm
A range of animal species with soft bodies, such as octopuses, or soft body parts (e.g. vertebrate tongue, elephant trunk) are capable to selectively control the stiffness of various parts of their body and thus, can exert stable forces on the environment. A soft manipulator mimicking the octopus arm is being developed in the framework of the OCTOPUS project at the BioRobotics Institute of Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna.
In the framework of the STIFF-FLOP project, the SSSA team is developing a highly dexterous soft manipulator able to locally control its stiffness, taking inspiration from biological “manipulators”, like the octopus arm and the elephant trunk. Many advantages can be introduced by the STIFF-FLOP manipulator in MIS, such as the ability to squeeze through narrow gaps and openings, inherent compliance leading to increased safety especially when in contact with humans, hyper-redundancy for improved reachability in an obstacle-cluttered environment and increased adaptability and stability in a possibly unpredictable environment.
The STIFF-FLOP arm structure, actuation strategy and stiffening mechanisms have been defined. It will be composed of three modules able to provide multidirectional bending and elongation, and to be stiffened in a controllable and selective way. Some prototypes have been fabricated and tested and are currently being characterized.
ROS-Workshop at the King’s College London
The ROS workshop on 21st – 23rd May at the King’s College London was successfully held by the Shadow Robot Company who introduced ROS as plattform for STIFF-FLOP. Hereby modular communication possibilities in ROS were presented. The integration of Hardware was demonstrated by embedding a wireless controller, that was used to control a first virtual model of a flexible manipulator.
The first part of the workshop was really dedicated to ROS itself, with lots of hand-on practice on how to write ROS code, interact with a ROS system, debug a running ROS system etc. The second part was specific to the Stiff-Flop project. Furthermore the Software System Map was discussed in more details, to make sure it matched as closely as possible the expectation of the system.
This was a very fruitful event where all participants collaborated toward a better understanding of the system as a whole. Videos for this workshop are available at: TODO insert link to videos.
The Shadow Robot Company is available to arrange ROS training workshops elsewhere.
Further information about ROS can be found at http://www.ros.org/wiki/.
€7.35 million funding to develop for first flexible robotic instruments
Octopuses and robots will lead to new ways for surgeons to safely and effectively intervene in cancers, prostate and heart conditions.
The Centre for Robotics Research at King’s College London leads a consortium of European scientists and medical doctors aiming to create soft, flexible robotic tools to improve “keyhole” or minimally invasive surgery (MIS). King’s roboticists and clinicians at Guy’s and St Thomas Hospitals will work with European partners to research and create robotic technology that will enable doctors to carry out a far greater range of minimally invasive surgical procedures than previously possible, advancing interventions on cancer, prostate and the heart. The project has received €7.35 million funding from the European Union’s 7th Framework Programme following a highly-competitive selection process. .