Research Topic

Flexible Surgical Robotics: Design, Modeling, Sensing and Control

About this Research Topic

Minimally invasive surgery (MIS), represented by laparoscopic surgery, has been widely accepted due to its benefits over conventional open surgery, such as shorter hospital stay, less blood loss, less postoperative pain, better cosmesis, etc. However, in MIS, instruments’ and endoscope’s motions are restricted by rigidity of the instruments and imposed constraints by the pivoting point. This leads to limited instruments access and endoscope field of view, demanding multiple incisions to mitigate these issues.

The desire of further reducing surgical trauma in this aging society motivated researchers to explore flexible robots and/or instruments for single port access (SPA) surgery and natural orifice transluminal endoscopic surgery (NOTES). Examples include miniature articulated redundant manipulators, tendon/cable/wire-driven manipulators, concentric tube manipulators, soft-tethered systems, etc. With the flexible/soft surgical robots, the access region and internal dexterity could be significantly enhanced. However, many issues remain to be solved before the flexible surgical robots could be widely utilized in a real surgical setting.

In flexible/soft surgical robot development, precise motion control in constrained environments with large payload is a major challenge. In addition, the snake-like non-anthropomorphic structures of these robots make one-to-one motion mapping between the robot and surgeon highly challenging. To overcome these barriers, numerous efforts have been made in the past, such as variable stiffness design, data-driven control, image or learning-based surgeon-robot-interaction (SRI). Despite these efforts, many challenges are yet to be solved due to the demand for frequent interactions of robot with surrounding anatomical structures and dexterous motion.

This Research Topic is established as an open platform for exchanging ideas of addressing the challenges in the development of flexible/soft surgical robots for MIS, SPA surgery and NOTES. In this Research Topic, we aim to present new solutions toward design, fabrication, modeling, shape/force sensing, precise motion control, and intuitive SRI of flexible/soft surgical robots that are capable of robust performance in a real surgical setting. With this collection, we wish to advance the insights in flexible/soft surgical robots and gather clinically feasible solutions in these various aspects to minimize surgical trauma and facilitate clinical adoption.

In this Research Topic, we strongly encourage researchers to submit works related to novel design, modeling, shape/force sensing, motion control and SRI of flexible and soft robots/instruments for surgical intervention. Potential topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

• Mechanism design of flexible surgical robots
• Kinematic, static and dynamic modeling of flexible surgical robots
• Sensing of flexible surgical robots using internal and/or external modalities
• Image-guided motion/path planning of flexible surgical robots
• Motion control of flexible surgical robots
• SRI of flexible surgical robots
• System integration of flexible surgical robots

Topic Editors Shing Shin Cheng and Zheng Li are affiliated with Multi-Scale Medical Robotics Center Limited in Hong Kong. All other Topic Editors declare no competing interests with regard to the Research Topic subject.


Keywords: Minimally invasive surgery, flexible robot, continuum robot, soft robot


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Minimally invasive surgery (MIS), represented by laparoscopic surgery, has been widely accepted due to its benefits over conventional open surgery, such as shorter hospital stay, less blood loss, less postoperative pain, better cosmesis, etc. However, in MIS, instruments’ and endoscope’s motions are restricted by rigidity of the instruments and imposed constraints by the pivoting point. This leads to limited instruments access and endoscope field of view, demanding multiple incisions to mitigate these issues.

The desire of further reducing surgical trauma in this aging society motivated researchers to explore flexible robots and/or instruments for single port access (SPA) surgery and natural orifice transluminal endoscopic surgery (NOTES). Examples include miniature articulated redundant manipulators, tendon/cable/wire-driven manipulators, concentric tube manipulators, soft-tethered systems, etc. With the flexible/soft surgical robots, the access region and internal dexterity could be significantly enhanced. However, many issues remain to be solved before the flexible surgical robots could be widely utilized in a real surgical setting.

In flexible/soft surgical robot development, precise motion control in constrained environments with large payload is a major challenge. In addition, the snake-like non-anthropomorphic structures of these robots make one-to-one motion mapping between the robot and surgeon highly challenging. To overcome these barriers, numerous efforts have been made in the past, such as variable stiffness design, data-driven control, image or learning-based surgeon-robot-interaction (SRI). Despite these efforts, many challenges are yet to be solved due to the demand for frequent interactions of robot with surrounding anatomical structures and dexterous motion.

This Research Topic is established as an open platform for exchanging ideas of addressing the challenges in the development of flexible/soft surgical robots for MIS, SPA surgery and NOTES. In this Research Topic, we aim to present new solutions toward design, fabrication, modeling, shape/force sensing, precise motion control, and intuitive SRI of flexible/soft surgical robots that are capable of robust performance in a real surgical setting. With this collection, we wish to advance the insights in flexible/soft surgical robots and gather clinically feasible solutions in these various aspects to minimize surgical trauma and facilitate clinical adoption.

In this Research Topic, we strongly encourage researchers to submit works related to novel design, modeling, shape/force sensing, motion control and SRI of flexible and soft robots/instruments for surgical intervention. Potential topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

• Mechanism design of flexible surgical robots
• Kinematic, static and dynamic modeling of flexible surgical robots
• Sensing of flexible surgical robots using internal and/or external modalities
• Image-guided motion/path planning of flexible surgical robots
• Motion control of flexible surgical robots
• SRI of flexible surgical robots
• System integration of flexible surgical robots

Topic Editors Shing Shin Cheng and Zheng Li are affiliated with Multi-Scale Medical Robotics Center Limited in Hong Kong. All other Topic Editors declare no competing interests with regard to the Research Topic subject.


Keywords: Minimally invasive surgery, flexible robot, continuum robot, soft robot


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

23 August 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

23 August 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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