Design and integration of a parallel, soft robotic end-effector for extracorporeal ultrasound

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OBJECTIVE: In this work we address limitations in state-of-the-art ultrasound robots by designing and integrating a novel soft robotic system for ultrasound imaging. It employs the inherent qualities of soft fluidic actuators to establish safe, adaptable interaction between ultrasound probe and patient.

METHODS: We acquire clinical data to determine the movement ranges and force levels required in prenatal foetal ultrasound imaging and design the soft robotic end-effector accordingly. We verify its mechanical characteristics, derive and validate a kinetostatic model and demonstrate controllability and imaging capabilities on an ultrasound phantom.

RESULTS: The soft robot exhibits the desired stiffness characteristics and is able to reach 100% of the required workspace when no external force is present, and 95% of the workspace when considering its compliance. The model can accurately predict the end-effector pose with a mean error of 1:18 ± 0:29mm in position and 0:92 ± 0:47° in orientation. The derived controller is, with an average position error of 0.39mm, able to track a target pose efficiently without and with externally applied loads. Ultrasound images acquired with the system are of equally good quality compared to a manual sonographer scan.

CONCLUSION: The system is able to withstand loads commonly applied during foetal ultrasound scans and remains controllable with a motion range similar to manual scanning.

SIGNIFICANCE: The proposed soft robot presents a safe, cost-effective solution to offloading sonographers in day-to-day scanning routines. The design and modelling paradigms are greatly generalizable and particularly suitable for designing soft robots for physical interaction tasks.

Original languageEnglish
JournalIEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Dec 2019


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