Existing minimally invasive surgical robots based on rigid links have improved surgical outcomes and reduced patient trauma by increasing surgical dexterity and providing depth-perception capabilities to the surgeon. As this technology matures, researchers are setting more demanding goals: further miniaturisation of surgical robotic platforms, reduction of trauma by minimising entry incisions to a single one, and further increase of dexterity to navigate and operate through tortuous natural pathways. These new procedures are referred to as flexible access endoluminal and transluminal interventions.
Flexible access robots are a technology promising to revolutionise both endoluminal and transluminal surgeries. Developed platforms comprise miniaturised mechatronic components to create arm-like assemblies with active shape control, and their flexibility allows insertion through natural orifices and operation inside anatomical lumen, e.g., the stomach or the abdomen. The field of flexible surgical robots is gaining great momentum, and several research groups and companies are demonstrating impressive achievements. Nonetheless, there are several important technical problems that still need to be addressed.
Optimal design of robots and accurate mechanics and dynamics modelling are the basis for operational accuracy. Moreover, the mechanical structures of the robots should exhibit varying and controlled flexibility, ideally being able to adjust between rigid and flexible configurations. Procedure planning and real-time control are additional challenges that need to be addressed, as are the force sensing, visualisation capabilities, and manufacturing limitations of ever smaller robots and miniaturised tools. Developing any of these robotics systems and medical devices for clinical use shares this common set of problems. Additionally, such interventional devices share common challenges with respect to clinical acceptance.
Despite these interconnections, however, it has been several years since a dedicated event. This workshop will bring researchers together to identify the unifying themes and solution strategies for this class of medical robots, to build new partnerships, and to spark new ideas for moving the field forward.