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Science: 

Robotic tentacle puts surgeons to shame

Like a slinky with electrodes. What a horrible thought.

Like a slinky with electrodes. What a horrible thought.

It may look like a slinky being tortured, but the picture above shows what could be a huge breakthrough in the surgical process.

Designed by Italian engineers, this robotic arm is designed to be more flexible than traditional tools, allowing it to reach places regular surgeons can’t. No matter how many years they’ve spent at medical school.

And it’s modeled on the humble octopus tentacle, just to rub salt into the wound. That’s right: the medical profession is potentially being upstaged by a creature that’s previous best feat was being a decent photographer.

“The human body represents a highly challenging and non-structured environment, where the capabilities of the octopus can provide several advantages with respect to traditional surgical tools,” lead author Tommaso Ranzani told the BBC.

Aside from the obvious flexibility, these advantages include reducing the number of tools required to perform intricate surgery.

While “traditional surgical tasks often require the use of multiple specialized instruments such as graspers, retractors, vision systems and dissectors,” this prototype was designed to perform multiple tasks, so it could potentially hold organs out of the way while another part operates. The Swiss Army Knife of invasive surgery robotics.

How does it work? It has inflatable compartments allowing it to switch between rigidity and flexibility at a second’s notice. A central tube containing coffee (chosen for its granularity) controls its rigidity: when suction is applied, the coffee granules jam, causing the tentacle to stiffen.

You can see the robotic tentacle in action below, but it’s a long way from the operating theatre just yet.

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