FlexDex™ is a platform technology that provides enhanced dexterity, intuitive control, and natural force feedback in minimally invasive surgery. These features enable complex laparoscopic procedures such as suturing, knot-tying, and fine dissection that require wrist-like articulation at the instrument tip inside the patient’s body. While such functionality has been so far possible only by means of multi-million dollar robotic surgery systems, FlexDex™ has achieved similar capabilities via a purely mechanical, non-robotic, low-cost tool design.
This has been made possible via several innovations in machine design, parallel kinematics, and flexure mechanisms by researchers in the Precision Systems Design Lab (PSDL). These innovations include a unique forearm mounted instrument configuration, a virtual center mechanism that makes the tool input joint coincident with the surgeon’s wrist, and a cable tension management system, to name a few. The overall result is a highly intuitive transmission of the surgeon’s hand and wrist motions to the end-effector motions, which makes the tool a natural extension of the surgeon’s hand inside the patient’s body.
In the past year, FlexDex Surgical, the start-up company founded by Professors Awtar and Geiger, has received an SBIR Phase II grant from the National Science Foundation along with matching funds from the State of Michigan, and has closed a Series A round of funding from private investors. With this funding, the company is developing its first product – an articulating needle-driver, for launch in Q2 2016. Prof. Awtar has taken a leave of absence from the university and is serving as the Chief Technology Officer of FlexDex Surgical, where he leads the product design and development effort, along with intellectual property creation and protection.
In the long term, FlexDex Surgical seeks to create a technology platform that provides the most natural, intuitive, and harmonious interface between the surgeon and any articulating laparoscopic or endoscopic instrument, at an affordable cost. Given the versatility of this technology, it can potentially serve multiple surgical specialties including gynecology, urology, general, bariatric, cardiothoracic, colorectal, etc. and will bring the benefits of minimally invasive surgery to larger segments of the society.
Over the years, FlexDex™ technology has been recognized by several awards and honors. In 2011, Prof. Awtar became the youngest recipient of ASME's Leonardo da Vinci Award for the invention of FlexDex™, recognizing eminent achievement and important advances in the field of machine design. A team of graduate students from PSDL who worked on creating and developing FlexDex™ won the first place in the Student Mechanism Design Competition at the 2010 ASME International Design and Engineering Technical Conferences. In the same year, the research article on FlexDex™ that appeared in the ASME Journal of Medical Devices was in the "Top 10 Most Downloaded Articles" list of that journal for several months in a row. In 2009, the FlexDex™ invention was showcased at the annual Celebrate Invention event organized by the University of Michigan Technology Transfer Office as one out of six most promising inventions short-selected from approximately 350 filed that year.