PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Instead of completely opening up your rib cage for a heart operation, what would you say about a smaller incision and letting a snake do it?

Less pain and less scarring may be the case someday as a result of the work of scientists at Carnegie Mellon University.

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“You’d make a small incision below the rib cage, and this robot would snake itself up behind the heart,” Dr. Stephen Tully with the CMU Robotics Institute said.

To help people, the robotics experts at CMU are recreating the unique way snakes move.

“So what you’re actually looking at is 16 individual modules. Each module except for the tail and the head is exactly identical,” Matt Travers said. “Each individual module has its own motor, it has its own control board, it has its own break board in there.”

It looks almost as simple as a video game and the controller even resembles one you would use with a Playstation. However, getting 16 components to move together requires some sophisticated computerized manipulation.

The technology could be used during surgery to correct abnormal heart rhythms coming from the surface of the heart.

It started as a search and rescue project.

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“Snake robots can extend the reach of rescue workers and get into collapsed buildings and locate victims more quickly, and might I add, more safely,” Dr. Howie Choset from the CMU Robotics Institute said.

Then it evolved because of Pittsburgh’s exceptional science and biotechnology resources.

So far, 30 procedures have been done with the snake robot in animal trials.

Three humans have had a procedure to plot the electrical activity around the outside of the heart.

The device is currently going through the FDA review process.

Other clinical applications in the works include procedures for the voice box and the pancreas.


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