Skip to main content

Design a Steerable Needle Robot

Primary Investigators:
Dr. Robert Webster (Lab Director), Maxwell Emerson
Brief Description of Project:
The MED Lab at Vanderbilt is looking for a talented, determined individual to help on a project that would enable the robotic control of a new surgical robot that can steer needles during insertion into the human body. Unlike traditional straight needles, these new steerable needles are designed controllably bend, taking on expressive paths to access to hard-to-reach targets like peripheral lung nodules or liver targets buried behind a network of blood vessels and bile ducts. Development and refinement of this technology has the potential to help save lives, replacing invasive open surgical procedures with minimally invasive needle-based interventions. The summer undergraduate researcher’s role in this project would be design the motors and gearing systems that enable a computer to control the steerable needle.  This includes building parts and assembling the robot and controlling it from a computer.

Desired Qualifications:
The project will involve mechanical design (SolidWorks), Rapid Prototyping (3D printing), Arduino programming, and high-level programming in C++.  The successful applicant need not be an expert in all of these; some can be learned during the summer. Experience with robotic systems is ideal but not required. Experience with one or more of the following would also be helpful but not required: CAM software such as MasterCam, digital and analog electronics, Eagle, MATLAB.
Nature of Supervision:
The summer researcher will work closely with Maxwell Emerson, a doctoral student who is doing his PhD thesis on this project, who will provide direct oversight and mentorship.
A Brief Research Plan (period is for 10 weeks):
- SolidWorks CAD Bootcamp (Week 1): The undergraduate researcher will work through several exercises to familiarize themselves with SolidWorks.
- Design Problem & Constraints (Week 2): With substantial input from mentors, the requirements and constraints will be determined and the design process begun at a high level, with brainstorming and sketching.
- Prototype 1 Design & Fabrication (Week 3-4): A first prototype is designed, fabricated and tested to assess performance with respect to requirements and constraints.
- Prototype 2 Design & Fabrication (Week 5-6): A second iteration is completed that addresses lessons learned from Prototype 1.
- Roboticize Prototype 2 (Week 7-10): The undergraduate researcher will work with mentors to wire up the necessary electronics, and connect the robot to a Robot Operating System (ROS) network, and demonstrate control of the robot. 

Number of Open Slots: 1
Contact Information:
Name: Robert Webster
Department: Mechanical Engineering