When a patient is placed under general anesthesia or otherwise has difficulty breathing on their own, they typically have a plastic endotracheal tube inserted into their mouth and down their trachea. This process maintains a clear air passage to the lungs, and is known as intubation. In order to make it safer and easier, students from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Biodesign program have created a robotic intubation device, that takes some of the guesswork out of the procedure.

Ordinarily, endotracheal tubes are inserted by physicians (sometimes with the help of machines) who must visually guide the tube into the trachea. If they mistakenly send it down the esophagus, the patient may not be able to breathe and could perish. It’s particularly possible that such a mistake could occur when performing chaotic battlefield intubations, or when dealing with patients that have blood or other liquids obscuring the view down their throats.

Known as the GuideIN Tube, the U Jerusalem device seeks out the trachea for itself. In order to help it do so, clinicians place an infrared light source against the skin on the outside of the patient’s trachea. Detectors at the end of the GuideIN Tube “see” that light shining through on the inside of the trachea, and direct the tube’s flexible probe-like guiding element (pictured above) to point in its direction. Forward momentum of the tube is provided by hand, but it steers itself.

The GuideIN Tube has already been successfully tested on cadavers, and it is hoped that clinical trials could begin next year. A demonstration of the device can be seen in the video below.

Source: Hebrew University of Jerusalem (PDF)