Fusion of robotics and minimally invasive surgery (MIS) has created new opportunities to develop diagnostic and therapeutic tools. Surgical robotics is advancing from externally actuated systems to miniature in-vivo robotics. However, with miniaturization of electric-motor-driven surgical robots, there comes a trade-off between the size of the robot and its capability. Slow actuation, low load capacity, sterilization difficulties, leaking electricity and transferring produced heat to tissues, and high cost are among the key limitations of the use of electric motors in in-vivo applications. Fluid power in the form of hydraulics or pneumatics has a long history in driving many industrial devices and could be exploited to circumvent these limitations. High power density and good compatibility with the in-vivo environment are the key advantages of fluid power over electric motors when it comes to in-vivo applications. However, fabrication of hydraulic/pneumatic actuators within the desired size and pressure range required for in-vivo surgical robotic applications poses new challenges. Sealing these types of miniature actuators at operating pressures requires obtaining very fine surface finishes which is difficult and costly. The research described here presents design, fabrication, and testing of a hydraulic/pneumatic double-acting cylinder, a limited-motion vane motor, and a balloon-actuated laparoscopic grasper. These actuators are small, seal-less, easy to fabricate, disposable, and inexpensive, thus ideal for single-use in-vivo applications. To demonstrate the ability of these actuators to drive robotic joints, they were modified and integrated in a robotic arm. The design and testing of this surgical robotic arm are presented to validate the concept of fluid-power actuators for in-vivo applications.

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