Could 3D printed ‘Snakebots’ revolutionize keyhole surgery?

Researchers from the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision (Brisbane, Australia) have 3D printed bespoke miniaturized surgical robots, uniquely adapted to individual patients’ anatomy.

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In a world first, researchers from the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision (Brisbane, Australia) have 3D printed bespoke miniaturized surgical robots, which are uniquely adapted to individual patients’ anatomy. The personalized robots are by using a computer model which mimics evolution in order to select the robot most specific to a patient’s needs.

The project is being led by Andrew Razjigaev (Australian Centre for Robotic Vision; Brisbane, Australia) who previously produced the centers first Snakebot prototype designed for knee arthroscopy. Razjigaev now aims to produce multiple snake-like robots that attach to a surgical robotic research platform. These robots will work together during a knee arthroscopy operation to improve patient outcomes.

“Surgeons want to do the best they can and face a lot of challenges, our objective is to provide surgeons with new tools to be able to perform existing surgery, like knee arthroscopy, more efficiently and safely and to perhaps perform surgery that is simply too difficult to attempt with today’s tools,” explained Razjigaev.

The process of producing the Snakebots begins with a scan of the patient’s knee. The data collected from the scan is then used to generate a digital 3D model, which colour codes the regions that the Snakebots need to access in green and avoid in red during the operation. Once the 3D model is complete, the computer uses a special algorithm that generates the Snakebots designs. The different designs then compete against each other in a mimic of evolution. The designs are scored on how well they can manoeuvre around the 3D model of the patient’s knee with weaker variants removed until one survives which is uniquely matched to the patient’s anatomy.

“Dexterity is incredibly important as the robots are not only required to reach surgical sites but perform complicated surgical procedures via telemanipulation,” Ross Crawford (Queensland University of Technology; Brisbane, Australia) added.

The optimal models are then produced using 3D printing, two of the designs will be fitted with surgical instruments and the third will have a camera to allow the surgeons to map the body cavity and discover areas of interest. Once printed, the three Snakebots will be attached in precise locations on a table-top robotic platform so they can enter the knee at specific incision sites.

The researchers on the project are hopeful that production of these Snakebots will revolutionize keyhole surgery making it more personalized to the patient and improving outcomes.

“Robotics is all about helping people in some way and what I’m most excited about is that this project may lead to improved health outcomes, fewer complications and faster patient recovery,” concluded Razjigaev.


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Mike Gregg

Commissioning Editor, Future Science Group

I have now left Future Science Group and the role of Commissioning Editor for the Journal of 3D Printing in Medicine. For any journal related enquiries, please contact Daniel Barrett at:

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