This paper reports an active catheter-tip device functionalized by integrating a temperature-responsive smart polymer onto a microfabricated flexible heater strip, targeting at enabling the controlled steering of catheters through complex vascular networks. A bimorph-like strip structure is enabled by photo-polymerizing a layer of poly(N
-isopropylacrylamide) hydrogel (PNIPAM), on top of a 20 × 3.5 mm2
flexible polyimide film that embeds a micropatterned heater fabricated using a low-cost flex-circuit manufacturing process. The heater activation stimulates the PNIPAM layer to shrink and bend the tip structure. The bending angle is shown to be adjustable with the amount of power fed to the device, proving the device’s feasibility to provide the integrated catheter with a controlled steering ability for a wide range of navigation angles. The powered device exhibits uniform heat distribution across the entire PNIPAM layer, with a temperature variation of <2 °C. The operation of fabricated prototypes assembled on commercial catheter tubes demonstrates their bending angles of up to 200°, significantly larger than those reported with other smart-material-based steerable catheters. The temporal responses and bending forces of their actuations are also characterized to reveal consistent and reproducible behaviors. This proof-of-concept study verifies the promising features of the prototyped approach to the targeted application area.
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