Interview: craniobot

| January 16, 2024

Interview: Craniobot

by the Open make team, Suhasa Kodandaramaiah. Copyright to the authors, distributed under a CC-BY 4.0 licence.


Banner image: fixme, distributed under a CC-BY 4.0

Interviewee: Suhasa Kodandaramaiah

Interviewers: Robert Mies (TU Berlin) & Moritz Maxeiner (FU Berlin)

Transcription and editing: Diana Paola Americano Guerrero, Robert Mies, Fabio Reeh, Moritz Maxeiner & Julien Colomb

screenshot of the interview

Screenshot of the interview.

The Craniobot in a nutshell

photo of the Carniobot equipment

Photos of Craniobot setup

Hardware products

The Craniobot is an open source tool that allows you to do precise microsurgical procedures on rodent models commonly used in neuroscience research. It is a robotically guided tool to precisely chip away the bone of the head.

Hardware maturity

Somewhere between a refined, well put together laboratory prototype and a turnkey. The labmaker version is more mature and is produced commercially.


Labmaker is selling it. Few groups have rebuilt it, making improvements in the hardware and the software.

The Project

Project start

There was a clear need within my group that I needed to solve. Like I said, solving this for us meant solving it for a whole bunch of other people.

How did the project Craniobot start?

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What are the benefits of using the Craniobot compared to classical surgery?

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How’s the project funded?


This was funded through lab startup funds, and a NIH grant for a PhD student for 2 years.

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How much overall budget did you receive?

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Core team and community

I was the primary supervisor of two students, Dr. Leila Ghanbari, who is now graduated with a PhD, and Matt Rynes, who is still in the group. They worked together. Leila mostly worked on the engineering aspects, while Matt worked on the animal research.

We didn’t recruit them for this particular project.

Could you explain the overall process, on a technical, project and community level?

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How was the process organized?

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Major issues

One bottleneck was focus on inexpensive mills. We wanted to make this affordable from the ground up. That meant that the mills aren’t very accurate. We were trying to do this in animals, that added complexity. Some of these evaluations are much slower than if you’re dealing with inanimate objects. The iteration cycles are quite slow.

What bottlenecks did you come across and how did you solve these?

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Did you make it from the ground up or how did you design it?

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What were the new aspects you developed and what existing designs have been used?

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Decision making

It has to do with the PhD-student academic advisor dynamic. When we started the project, both students were early in their training. This was more authoritative. As the students became more independent, the decision making was more democratic, like in any mentor-mentee relationship.

How were decisions in the project made? Was one person or the group responsible for making the decisions?

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The Hardware

Hardware components

You can break it down to three main components.

  • There’s the CNC mill itself, that is off the shelf.
  • The. stereotactic apparatus: We had to develop a specific apparatus that allows to anesthetize these mice or rats and fix them securely within the CNC mill. We needed to build one that’s customized to fit into a programmable CNC mill device.
  • The third component is the contact sensor.

We want to do a force sensing based method. One of the innovations we had to figure out, was to build a contact sensor that could measure contact with the skull surface accurately enough, while applying very very little force.

A lot of the components are off the shelf. The innovation came in from the system integration side.

What hardware products have you developed?

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How would you classify these components in terms of mechanical, electronic and electrical?

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Does it have a software portion?

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How would you rate the maturity of your product? Is this more of a prototype, demonstrator or market ready product?

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Has this hardware been built, produced or even modified by others independently or with your assistance?

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Were you working with these groups or was this independently?

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Research Outputs

Publication strategy

The primary objective was the publication. We took the time internally to build a refined version of the Craniobot, which we published as a follow up at Nature Protocols.

When you started this project, what were the envisaged outputs of this hardware development process in terms of publications, journals, products, prototypes or documentation?

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Local production

There have been a few labs that have independently got this system to work. Labmaker is selling it.

How was your first deployment of the machine?

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What did you publish about the hardware? What types of files and other information did you publish, like bill of materials, CAD files and assembly instructions?

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Academic outputs

We published the hardware in the Nature Protocols paper.

Did you use any other publication platforms other than Github? Did you publish any of the hardware in a journal?

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Why did you choose these platforms for the hardware publication?

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Did you encounter any type of barriers in your efforts to publicize on these platforms?

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Project process

It’s always a balance. How much do we need to take this further? If we take it further, what are the subsequent benefits to us and to the community?

We work in an academic lab and we’ve moved on to other projects.

Did you have any problems somewhere else?

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Did you try some solutions before you ended up on GitHub?

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What have you not published?

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Is the hardware development finished? How did you continue?

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Successes and failures

It opened up a whole bunch of other approaches. It opened the idea that you don’t need to have sophisticated tools to do this kinds of automation.

What was and what wasn’t successful about the project?

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Do you have an idea maybe why people would not publish the results? Why did you decide to not make it open source?

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What made you work on this project as assistant professor?

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How many members have contributed to the project overall?

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How many people contributed overall?

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Did people outside of the university contribute, like LabMaker or Rice?

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Did you need any technicians from the university to step in?

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Did some students participate in the project, for example by doing a thesis?

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How did you find suitable project members with the needed competences?

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Work Coordination

At any point, there was probably one student interfacing directly with me.

How did you coordinate this work between these members of the team?

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Is this kind of surgical method also used for humans?

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Do you close up the skull after the experiments?

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Personal gain

Leila directly benefited from this by becoming a research engineer in a big medical devices company.

This tool is the very first paper that came out of my group. To lead something was the biggest benefit.

How did the members benefit from the work on the project?

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How did you benefit?

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