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In the international SPIRITS (Smart Printed Interactive Robots for Interventional Therapy and Surgery) project, the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA and four other research teams are developing a new type of medical robot, producing it layer by layer using a PolyJet printer. The printer’s jets can apply two different polymer solutions, either individually or mixed, with pinpoint accuracy. UV light hardens the plastics before the next layer is applied.

In the future, the robot will assist doctors in taking biopsies and in tumor thermotherapy. “The positioning of a needle or probe in a minimally invasive procedure is absolutely crucial, because at best the doctor can be guided by computer tomography or MRT imaging and that means working with the patient lying in a narrow tube,” explains Marius Siegfarth of the Fraunhofer IPA. The robot is therefore small and light enough to be inserted in the scanner tube with the patient. It is controlled hydraulically from outside the tube, protecting the doctors from CT imaging radiation.