Prof. Kaspar Althoefer, Kings College London
Professor Kaspar Althoefer is a mechatronics engineer, currently heading the Centre of Robotics Research (CORE) at King's College London. He joined the King's Robotics Group in 1996 as a Lecturer and is Professor of Robotics and Intelligent Systems since 2011. His research targets at increasing robot autonomy through embedded intelligence and falls in the areas of medical robotics and intelligent grasping focussing on modelling of tool-environment interaction dynamics, sensing and neuro-fuzzy-based sensor signal classification with applications in robot-assisted minimally invasive surgery, miniaturised sensor development and steering systems for remote intervention in medicine. He is currently involved in several large-scale projects on robot-assisted surgery and medicine authentication funded by the EU, EPSRC and the Wellcome Trust. The total research funding awarded to him exceeds 4 Million, including 3 Million as Principal Investigator. Prof Althoefer has authored/co-authored more than 200 peer-reviewed papers and is named inventor on four patent applications. He is currently supervising a research team working on medical robotics, intelligent grasping approaches for articulated hands and sensor developments involving ten PhD students and five post-doctoral research assistants and research fellows. 

From STIFF to FLOPpy A new approach for robot-assisted surgery: Advancements and Challenges
The last decade has seen tremendous technological advancements in the field of Robot-assisted Minimally Invasive Surgery (RMIS). Robotic surgical systems, such as the da Vinci system by Intuitive Surgical have penetrated the operating theatre and have shown to represent a suitable alternative to laparoscopic surgery, at least for a number of procedures such as prostatectomy. Its main advantage over existing techniques is that it allows surgeons to conduct complex procedures in an intuitive way while providing 3D views of the operating area. Limitations, though, stem from the fact that such manipulation devices are built from straight, rigid links and lack tactile sensing modalities as well as haptic feedback. More recent research efforts have focussed on creating surgical robots whose structure is flexible allowing the robot to follow more complex trajectories without negatively impacting on healthy tissue, including systems such as the i-snake (Imperial College) and HARP (Carnegie Mellon University) and concentric tube robots (Webster/Dupont). Departing from these types of robots, which are fundamentally based on a structure made from rigid link elements, EU project STIFF-FLOP proposes a new concept of modern, inherently safe robots for minimally invasive surgery, capable of morphing from a stiff to a soft state. Inspired by the octopus, the vision of the project is to develop a fully-integrated surgical robot system, combining soft and stiffness-controllable mechanisms, pneumatic and hydraulic actuation, tactile and force sensors, haptics as well as advanced control and learnable navigation techniques. The presentation will give an overview of the STIFF-FLOP project, the advancements to date and the challenges that lie ahead.