Accessing tumors within the inner ear typically requires the removal of large sections of the mastoid bone to make sure fragile nearby vessels and nerves are not damaged. A team of German researchers has developed a “Non-linear Drilling Robot” that can go through bone while taking turns, kind of like how directional drilling for shale gas and oil is now done. The NiLiBoRo device creates a 5mm hole that provides enough space to introduce instruments into the inner ear.
It’s made of two sections that have an according-like connection and hydraulic liquid lines are used to flex the drill in order to change direction. Kind of like a caterpillar, the device slowly advances forward while drilling its way ahead. Its exact position is tracked using an electromagnetic system which in the future can be tied to safety mechanisms that make sure the instrument doesn’t go pre-programmed parameters and hurt a patient.
Since there are up to 12 hydraulic lines that have been used in the prototypes, the device can have quite a bit of precision of movement that allows it to avoid very small anatomical structures.