One of the main advantages to this type of actuation scheme is that compliance is built into the design, which provides a more fluid, varied movement for the camera, said Tom Secord, a former MIT colleague of Ueda's who is now an engineer at Medtronic, a biomedical device company in Minneapolis, Minn. He said:
What the cellular architecture shows you to do is activate small subgrounds to scale the output. By turning individual units on or off, which is very easy to do, you can achieve a wide range of outputs … this simplifies the control problem of achieving a desired output for a robotic movement.
The end result is that we have a camera positioning mechanism that works in the same way as the human eye. The devices that drive it are flexible. They are stretchy like rubber bands in the same way the human eye muscles are.
While the mechanism is still being tested and there are no plans for commercial development yet, Schultz envisions several medical applications for the cellular actuation method used in the camera. The camera itself, for instance, could be used inside an MRI machine not only because of its movements but also because of its material composition. The mechanism created by Georgia Tech uses non-theritic materials that won't be affected by the procedure's magnetic field the way motors that use iron as their base would, Schultz said.
Traditional motors have iron-based materials and so they can't go in an MRI room [because] they will go flying into an MRI field and break the machine. Since the cellular actuators aren't made of iron, they are only minimally affected by the magnetic field. They may distort the image but it's not too bad. They can use the camera mechanism to look around in MRI [tests].
The cellular actuation method created by the team also opens the door for innovative new surgical devices that could complement the work of doctors by lending a robotic hand to their work, Schultz said.
This artificial muscle could be used... to apply a force to the patient, clamping a blood vessel, or pushing some tissue that's being operated on. This type of robotic actuation could be used to actuate a number of different surgical robotic devices.