science tech medicine health epilepsy robots surgery neuro brain needles
Robotic Brain Surgeon Takes First Steps

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by Txchnologist staff

Mechanical engineers working to improve brain surgery for treating epilepsy have unveiled a machine that sounds like it came from a sci-fi movie.  At a recent conference, Vanderbilt University researchers presented a pneumatic robot that is designed to drill through a patient’s cheek, guide a steerable needle to the base of the brain, and then destroy malfunctioning tissue causing the disorder.

Their device, made of 3-D printed plastic pieces and a shape-memory alloy steerable needle, can operate inside a working MRI machine to let doctors monitor progress millimeter by millimeter. Their needle is composed of a mixture of nickel and titanium, which isn’t affected by the MRI’s powerful magnetic fields.

The problem the team is trying to address is that a majority of epileptic seizures occur in the hippocampus, an area near the base of the brain. While surgeons now probe for the source of epileptic seizures through the cheek of a patient, current treatments to fix the problem involve going in through the top of the skull with straight needles. This means that doctors must traverse other delicate structures of the brain and travel farther than if they could enter the skull through the cheek.

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science tech robots physics biology reptile snakes biologically_inspired_engineering sand mars

Carnegie Mellon’s modular snake robots are learning some new moves thanks to an effort across several universities. The machines, which have already shown proficiency at climbing trees, are being designed to overcome all sorts of difficult terrain. Now they are demonstrating that they have taken more tips from their flesh-and-blood namesakes. 

This time, roboticists have trained the modular snakes to move across soft sand like the venomous pit vipers called sidewinder rattlesnakes that live in the southwestern U.S. Sidewinders use a sideways J-shaped form of locomotion to efficiently climb up yielding sandy slopes without slipping.  

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science tech robots soft_robots search_and_rescue gifs autonomous_robots engineering disaster_response

Is this weird-looking soft-bodied robot an early version of the one that might one day help find people trapped in collapsed buildings?

Harvard roboticists are working on a soft, untethered robot that keeps operating through fire, water, crushing force and freezing conditions. So far, they have gotten the two-foot-long machine to operate without external power connections for two hours. 

To endure through the elements, the pliable body was made of a composite of silicone, fabric and hollow glass microspheres and contains no rigid structural elements. Along with surviving tough conditions, it successfully demonstrated an important ability—lifting the mini air compressors, compressed gas, valves, batteries and controller off the ground and moving with all the components it needs to be autonomous. 

"Robots intended for use outside of laboratory environments should be able to operate without the constraints of a tether," the engineers write in a report on their machine in the journal Soft Robotics. “This is especially true for robots intended to perform demanding tasks in challenging environments (for example, for search and rescue applications in unstable rubble).”

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Camera Robot Made For Disney Now Inspects Bridges

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by Michael Keller

Bridges are made to transport vehicles, not to make it easy for inspectors to do their job. That’s why inspecting the undersides and support pillars of tall ones is no easy task, either requiring people looking for problems to perform feats of contortion or the structure to go without review.

But infrastructure left without scrutiny is infrastructure bound to fail. In the case of the reinforced concrete that makes bridges, the test is a fairly straightforward one.

Inspectors use a device that checks for unseen corrosion within the concrete. The tool is an electrode attached to a wheel that detects big differences in electric potential within the material. This is a sign that corrosion—either from deicing salt that eats away the steel inside or atmospheric carbon dioxide that seeps in and changes the concrete’s chemistry—has set in and needs to be monitored. 

The question is just how to get to those hard-to-reach spots. Now engineers and roboticists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) have developed a solution. 

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