An extensible continuum manipulator (ECM) has specific advantages over its nonextensible counterparts. For instance, in certain applications, such as minimally invasive surgery or pipe inspection, the base motion might be limited or disallowed. The additional extensibility provides the robot with more dexterous manipulation and a larger workspace. Existing continuum robot designs achieve extensibility mainly through artificial muscle/pneumatic, extensible backbone, concentric tube, and base extension, etc. This article proposes a new way to achieve this additional motion degree-of-freedom by taking advantage of the rigid coupling hybrid mechanism concept and a flexible parallel mechanism. More specifically, a rack and pinion set is used to transmit the motion of the i-th subsegment to drive the (i+1)-th subsegment. A six-chain flexible parallel mechanism is used to generate the desired spatial bending and one extension mobility for each subsegment. This way, the new manipulator can achieve tail-like spatial bending and worm-like extension at the same time. Simplified kinematic analyses are conducted to estimate the workspace and the motion nonuniformity. A proof-of-concept prototype was integrated to verify the mechanism’s mobility and to evaluate the kinematic model accuracy. The results show that the proposed mechanism achieved the desired mobilities with a maximum extension ratio of 32.2% and a maximum bending angle of 80 deg.
Journal of Mechanisms and Robotics Open Issues