Mechanical Follow-the-Leader motion of a hyper-redundant surgical instrument: Proof-of-concept prototype and first tests

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One of the most prominent drivers in the development of surgical procedures is the will to reduce their invasiveness, attested by minimally invasive surgery being the gold standards in many surgical procedures and natural orifices transluminal endoscopic surgery gaining acceptance. A logical next step in this pursuit is the introduction of hyper-redundant instruments that can insert themselves along multi-curved paths referred to as Follow-the-Leader motion. In the current state of the art, two different types of Follow-the-Leader instruments can be distinguished. One type of instrument is robotized; the movements of the shaft are controlled from outside the patient by actuators, for example, electric motors, and a controller storing a virtual track of the desired path. The other type of instrument is more mechanical; the movements of the shaft are controlled from inside the patient by a physical track that guides the shaft along the desired path. While in the robotized approach all degrees of freedom of the shaft require an individual actuator, the mechanical approach makes the number of degrees of freedom independent from the number of actuators. A desirable feature as an increasing number of actuators will inevitably drive up costs and increase the footprint of an instrument. Building the physical track inside the body does, however, impede miniaturization of the shaft's diameter. This article introduces a new fully mechanical approach for Follow-the-Leader motion using a pre-determined physical track that is placed outside the body. This new approach was validated with a prototype called MemoFlex, which supports a Ø5 mm shaft (standard size in minimally invasive surgery) that contains 28-degrees-of-freedom and utilizes a simple steel rod as its physical track. Even though the performance of the MemoFlex leaves room for improvement, especially when following multiple curves, it does validate the proposed concept for Follow-the-Leader motion in three-dimensional space.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1141-1150
JournalInstitution of Mechanical Engineers. Proceedings. Part H: Journal of Engineering in Medicine
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Follow-the-Leader
  • hyper-redundant
  • minimally invasive surgery
  • natural orifices transluminal endoscopic surgery
  • pathway surgery
  • snake-like
  • surgical instruments
  • tendon-driven

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