Robotic catheter autonomously navigates a beating heart

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Scientists at Harvard Medical School affiliate Boston Children's Hospital have developed a catheter that uses haptic vision and machine learning to self-navigate its way through a still-beating heart, according to a study published in Science Robotics.

The catheter was outfitted with a sensor on the end that transmitted photos to researchers and also acted as a haptic antenna of sorts, inspired by the ways rats use whiskers and cockroaches use antennae to find their way, periodically tapping on the walls of the heart. Machine learning algorithms analyzed the images and taps to determine where the catheter was and help it navigate to the desired valve.

The robotic catheter was tested in 83 trials on five pigs. It was able to find its way to the correct location 95 percent of the time and caused no damage to ventricular walls.

Though the self-driving catheter did not arrive at the desired valve faster than a manually directed one can, the researchers noted in the study that the algorithm will be able to learn from each procedure, improving both speed and accuracy. Additionally, autonomous navigation would allow clinicians to focus on critical analysis of the information gathered from the catheter rather than spending time and energy on the tedious task of instrument control.

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