This Robot Can Grow And It May Help Perform Surgery One Day

Researchers have developed a proof-of-concept robot that is able to grow, a functionality that may have big implications for the medical field in coming years, though there are other potential uses for such a creation. The robot doesn't grow how you're likely imaging — it's not like a human, that is. Instead, the growing robot can be imagined as something like a climbing vine, being equipped with the ability to extend its reach via a growing tip. That tip itself can accommodate many types of environments.

The proof-of-concept was created by researchers with Stanford University and UC Santa Barbara; they describe their creation as a tubular robot, one that can navigate through various narrow environments by extending a tip that continues further outward. The robot senses the environment it is in during this growing process, basically expanding open in the same way as a party blower.

While you could imagine this robot as being like a balloon expanding with air, the researchers explain that it does not expand across its body, but instead only at the tip. In that way it is like a vine growing forward (at a faster rate, no doubt); this particular aspect of its functionality was a top priority for the project.

Because the pressure doesn't cause the robot to grow along its body length but instead only at the tip, it is able to navigate through narrow, constrained surfaces without generating friction. By adding sensors and cameras to the robot, such an ability could prove useful in searching through rubble in search-and-rescue missions. The researchers explain that this capability can also be leveraged in surgery.

Unlike a surgical catheter, which has a static size, the expandable portion of this robot can adapt to narrower blood vessels and other routes, navigating the passages without risk of bunching up or penetrating the vessel wall. In this way, the extending tip could be used to pull along a catheter through a blood vessel while greatly minimizing risk to that vessel. Further work on developing these capabilities is ongoing.

SOURCE: EurekAlert