There is a pressing need for increasingly smaller medical devices as doctors seek to reduce the invasiveness of medical procedures. The challenge here is to reduce the size of instruments without sacrificing their dexterity. In the COMET Lab we tackle this challenge by creating continuum (that is, continuosly flexible) manipulator designs which can be miniaturized to create millimeter-scale robot arms.

One specific application we are currently looking at is endoscopy of the middle ear passing through the nose and the natural orifice of the Eustachian tube. This is a medical procedure that doctors have attempted unsuccessfully for years. The major roadblock is the lack of tip articulation in endoscopes < 2 mm (required to pass through the narrow lumen of the Eustachian tube), which greatly limits visual coverage once inside the ear. As an initial step towards solving this problem, we combined a state of the art miniature chip-tip camera and a new thin-walled asymmetric “slotted” tip design that can be controllably articulated. The video below shows how the endoscope would operate - the demonstration is carried inside a 3D printed model of the middle ear:​

As part of this research, we have developed a computational framework that enables us to simulate middle ear endoscopy. We are using this framework to evaluate different endoscope kinematic designs, with the overarching goal of maximizing reachability inside the middle ear cavity: