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The CRIM Lab has a mission and a vision, that is to be a leader in the research and development of bio-inspired and/or bio-applied micro- and nano-robots and systems.
The role of biology in the mission and strategy of CRIM is twofold: the micro-machines that CRIM studies, models, and develops can be bio-applied (this is the case, e.g., of advanced tools for minimally invasive therapy or of micro-sensors for health monitoring), or they can be bio-inspired. As regards bio-applied machines, the CRIM Lab addresses the biomedical field, where “biomedical” is considered at large including not only systems and components for advanced surgery and therapy, but also systems for improving health by monitoring food and environment. The second approach, based on bio-inspiration, is aimed at modelling and developing bio-inspired micro-machines in order to better understand the behaviour of lower animal forms (e.g. invertebrates and simple vertebrates), thus allowing to approach traditional problems in motion generation, control, sensing and communication by exploiting a different – and often more effective – solution. In this sense, bio-inspiration is extraordinarily useful to educate creative researchers. More than 2 millions of animal species, which swim, crawl, walk, fly, exist: when analyzed from an engineering viewpoint they allow the researcher to develop a competence on basic physical phenomena and also to create very effective engineering solutions for many health-related applications.
This twofold approach distinguishing bio-application from bio-inspiration drives also the entire scientific mission of the CRIM Lab. The CRIM research can be generated by (1) very advanced problems, basically in the biomedical or health-related fields, or by (2) imagination-driven and “adventurous” ideas. In both cases, the first outcome of research is the definition of appropriate methodologies and principles and theories, which constitute the main scientific topics of the laboratory. Based on these methodologies and theories, micro- and nano-engineering design technologies and the micro- and nano-fabrication technologies available at CRIM allow to develop the most adequate solution for the devised problem (case 1) or to enter unpredictable classes of problems with a totally innovative approach (case 2).
The main scientific problems addressed by the CRIM Lab are the following:
- the study of materials, both materials for fabricating the micro-robotic machines and biological materials representing the environment for the operation and application of these machines;
- the study of the motion biomechanics, both for the micro-machines developed for specific applications, and for the animal forms from which these machines take inspiration for navigating, walking, flying, etc.;
- the study of micromanipulation phenomena, from the “macro” to the “micro” domain and the analysis of the machine/tissue interaction at the micro/nano level;
- the problems related to the actuation, sensing, control, communication and energy generation and conversion of these machines;
- the problems related to interfacing the developed machines to a human operator, ranging from traditional teleoperation problems to restoration of perceptive and action capabilities in a world dominated by different scale laws;
- the analysis of human operator performance, from the understanding of human factors and perceptual-motor mechanisms that characterize it, to its evaluation, modelling and automation.
The size range of systems developed at CRIM goes from centimetres down to nanometres. Studying, modelling, developing and testing machines in this size range means to pursue a new approach in engineering, which is based on function integration towards miniaturization. What radically distinguishes the micro-engineering approach of the CRIM Lab from similar approaches at national (but also international) level is the bio-mechatronic design paradigm, and the attention for the complete system interacting in a real environment rather than for the high performance component demonstrating the capabilities of advanced manufacturing technologies.
The fundamental consideration is that micro-(nano)-technologies can enable the design and development of novel micro-robots as well as of innovative and high performance components for macro-robots.
Thanks to the mechatronic approach, in fact, also macro-robots can be re-designed and be composed of several sub-systems, each with its own sensors, actuators and embedded controller. The result of this approach are structurally simpler systems, with distributed control and higher robustness to partial failure. In this sense, macro-robots operating with high accuracy in a limited workspace are of extreme interest for the CRIM Lab: this is the case, for example, of surgical robots which operate onto delicate biological tissues and which must remap and scale the intentions of motions of the surgeon.
For some advanced specific problems, bio-inspiration and bio-application can coexist. Deeply innovative concepts are investigated for the development of microrobots for endoluminal endoscopy and intervention, such as swimming or reconfigurable and assembling microrobots with a swarm behaviour. In this framework, bioinspired micro-robots are investigated for the exploration of the human body, like smart capsules with insect-like locomotion capabilities, on-board camera and miniaturised tools for diagnosis and intervention. In addition, swimming micro-robots able to navigate in the cerebro-spinal fluid or in the amniotic liquid have been recently approached for future development by using microengineering methods and techniques.
As highlighted above, the approach of CRIM Lab is strongly interdisciplinary, by taking advantages of disciplines which range from mechanical engineering, to electronic engineering, physics, biology, information sciences, chemistry, and medicine. For its nature, micro-robotics requires innovative design and development rules in comparison to traditional robotics, thus exploring new fields for finding solutions which allow an extreme integration of functionalities.
Thanks to this interdisciplinary approach, the CRIM Lab is well linked to other Laboratories of the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna. In particular, there are collaborations with the Medicine sector, in the area of micro-physiology (Prof. F. Coceani) and of advanced surgery and therapy technologies (Prof. A. Cuschieri). Collaborations and joint projects are growing also with the sector of Agriculture Science in the area of molecular biology and ecophysiology of plants (Prof. Luca Sebastiani). Finally, there is a long tradition of collaboration with the sector of Economy, in the field of technology transfer, economical assessment of advanced medical technologies, and in support for the creation of technology spin-off companies.
The objectives of the CRIM Lab in the near future are to enforce the research lines already active and productive and to open also new scientific lines in order to promote the growing of the Lab in terms of scientific production, graduated and under-graduated education, and international visibility, by boosting the state-of-the-art technologies for micro- and nano-fabrication already available at CRIM.
Thanks to this approach, the final objective of CRIM is to grow as the reference institute at the international level in the field of bio-applied and bio-inspired micro-robotics.
The scientific program for the next three years is organized as follows:
- consolidation and assessment of the applied research lines in the fields of minimally invasive therapy, minimally invasive surgery, endoluminal surgery, tissue modelling, food and environmental monitoring, by paying attention to the distinguishing system approach which is the characterising feature of the lab;
- study of the biomechanics of biological organisms (e.g. arthropods, annelids, molluscs), carried on both with internal resources and in collaboration with neuroscientists and zoologists, in order to improve the engineering knowledge of the motion, control, and sensing mechanisms of these animals and to extract design rules for innovative components and systems;
- modelling, simulation and fabrication of miniaturised bio-inspired machines, either autonomous or controlled by innovative human-machine interfaces (such as brain-robot interfaces);
- development of enabling micro- and nano-technologies for fabricating this micro- and nano-machines, by employing innovative solutions for aspects related to the powering and control.
As paradigmatic test-benches of the above scientific lines, three bio-inspired platforms will be investigated and developed:
- an artificial octopus, which is the paradigm of emerging cognitive capabilities in animals, and which is also an extremely interesting machine in terms of mechanical design and control, by considering the extraordinary abilities of manipulation and locomotion which it possesses;
- an artificial lamprey, which is a prototypal vertebrate and whose understanding can help to understand and model rhythmic motion in more evolved vertebrates (up to humans);
- an artificial ant, which will be approached not only for its abilities of manipulation and locomotion, but in particular for studying communication and swarm behaviour in the micro-scale;
- an artificial spider, with particular reference to the vision system of jumping spiders, which can be used as source for a bio-inspired solution applicable to small-scale systems such as endoscopes.
The above objectives will be pursued by paying attention to aspects related to research internationalization, educational activity for under-graduated and graduated students, and growing of spin-off companies which could make the research products of the CRIM available to the large public.
Research internationalization will be pursued by improving and enlarging the international network collaborating with the CRIM Lab on topics related to bio-applied and/or bio-inspired micro-machines. Organization of special sessions in engineering and medical conferences, preparation of joint publications with international scientists and special issues on scientific journals will be addressed in the next future. For amplifying the impact of the CRIM Lab research, a special attention will be devoted to medical and biological journals, along with traditional target journals in bioengineering, robotics and information sciences, which are addressed to more limited research communities.
The international network will be also strengthened by preparing regularly research proposals for national, European and international funding programs. The CRIM Lab is very effective in preparing research proposals: e.g., in September 2005, the CRIM Lab has submitted 1 EU Integrated Project, which is scientifically coordinated by SSSA, 3 EU Integrated Projects with the role of Partners, 5 EU STREP projects with both role of Partners and Coordinator, 1 research proposal for the European Space Agency, 4 research proposals for the National Research Plan, one collaboration plan in the area of micro-robotics with the IIT (Italian Institute of Technology).
Along with scientific publications, also intellectual property issues will be deeply considered, specially for fuel the generation and growing of spin-off companies, which will have the mission to make accessible to a wide public (e.g. patients and medical doctors, mainly) technologies and methods developed at the CRIM Lab.
The CRIM Lab is organized in several research areas under the responsibilities of CRIM Professors and Assistant Professors:
The CRIM Lab has strong tradition in: research exploitation, relationships with existing companies, start-ups promotion. The CRIM Lab carries on training activities consisting in information days, workshops, seminars, aiming at disseminating new technologies in the industry. In addition local companies frequently take advantage of CRIM technologies (precision and ultra-precision fabrication technology for producing 3D miniature and micro-sized parts, nanotechnology facilities) for producing or prototyping small-series of new products.
CRIM competence and activeness in the field of micro and nano technologies have been recognised by several European co-funded initiatives like NETMED (Virtual Institute on Micromechatronics for Biomedical Industry, contract n. 05113), MOEMS (Competence Center on Micro-Opto-Electro-Mechanical Systems, contract n. 33444), VISION Online (Virtual institute for technical training).
Finally CRIM Lab helps the best research ideas to reach the venture capital and go on the market also by organizing yearly events and awards as “Premio nazionale dell’innovazione” promoted by the network of Italian incubators.
Official agreements and stable cooperations with other institutions
Agreements• Institut für Mikrotechnik Mainz (IMM), Mainz, Germany
• Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
• Chongqing University, China
• Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC), Hong Kong, China
• Italian Institute of Technology, Genoa, Italy
• University “Campus Biomedico”, Rome
• Local Health Services (ASL) in Livorno, Italy
• Piaggio company
• University of Pisa, medicine dept.
• University of Pisa, engineering dept.
• National Research Council (CNR)
• Stanford University
• Korean government – Intelligent Microsystem Center (KIST)
• Steinbeis University, Berlin
• Centre of Mechanics of Biological Materials, University of Padova
• Fujie Lab, Waseda University (Japan)
CRIM external research structures• EndoCAS, Center of Excellence in Computer-Assisted Surgery in the Hospital area of Pisa, Italy.
List of 10 most relevant and recent publications(updated Sep 30, 2005)
1. L. Phee, D. Accoto, A. Menciassi, C. Stefanini, M.C. Carrozza, and P. Dario: “Analysis and development of locomotion devices for the gastrointestinal tract”, IEEE T Bio-Med Eng 49 (6), 613-616, 2002.
2. A. Pietrabissa, P. Dario, M. Ferrari, C. Stefanini, A. Menciassi, C. Moretto, and F. Mosca: “Grasping and dissecting instrument for hand-assisted laparoscopic surgery: development and early clinical experience”, Surg Endosc 16 (9), 1332-1335, 2002.
3. P. Dario, B. Hannaford, and A. Menciassi: “Smart surgical tools and augmenting devices”, IEEE T Robotic Autom 19 (5), 782-792, 2003.
4. A. Menciassi and P. Dario: “Bio-inspired solutions for locomotion in the gastrointestinal tract: background and perspectives”, Philos T Roy Soc A 361(1811), 2287-2298, 2003.
5. P. Dario, P. Ciarletta, A. Menciassi and B. Kim: “Modelling and Experimental Validation of the Locomotion of Endoscopic Robots in the Colon ”, Int J Robot Res 23 (4-5), 549-556, 2004.
6. A. Menciassi, A. Eisinberg, I. Izzo, and P. Dario: “From “macro” to “micro” manipulation: models and experiments”, IEEE-ASME T Mech 9 (2), 311-320, 2004.
7. B. Mazzolai, V. Mattoli, V. Raffa, G. Tripoli, D. Accoto, A. Menciassi, and P. Dario: “A microfabricated physical sensor for atmospheric mercury monitoring”, Sensors Actuat-A Phys 113 (3), 282-287, 2004.
8. L. Beccai, S. Roccella, A. Arena, F. Valvo, P. Valdastri, A. Menciassi, M.C. Carrozza, and P. Dario: “Design and fabrication of a hybrid silicon three-axial force sensor for biomechanical applications”, Sensors Actuat-A Phys 120 (2), 370-382, 2005.
9. G. Megali, O. Tonet, P. Dario, A. Vascellari, and M. Marcacci: “Computer-assisted training system for knee arthroscopy”, Int J Med Rob Comp Ass Surg 1 (3), 57-66, 2005.
10. A. Menciassi, A. Moglia, S. Gorini, G. Pernorio, C. Stefanini, and P. Dario: “Shape memory alloy clamping devices of a capsule for monitoring tasks in the gastrointestinal tract”, J Micromech. Microeng. 15 (11), 2045-2055, 2005.