In the future, minor surgery could happen inside an MRI scanner. Researchers from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts are working on robots that can function inside magnetic resonance imaging machines to allow surgeons to react to real-time information about the body as they see it.

MRI scanners are essentially giant magnets with a hole for a person inside, which makes putting most metal inside them extremely dangerous. Anything metal in the same room as the scanner—even something as innocuous as a mop bucket—can get pulled in at high speeds, causing major injuries. What else tends to have metal parts? Robots.

MRI machines are a tight squeeze for one person, much less a patient and a surgeon. To allow doctors to make use of magnetic imaging during surgery, researchers from the Automation and Interventional Medicine (AIM) Robotics Research Laboratory are developing plastic and ceramic robots. These automated surgical assistants are being used for prostate biopsies at one Boston hospital.

Instead of doctors blindly stabbing patients with needles trying to take samples of the prostate during a biopsy, the MRI allows them to see suspicious-looking tissue first. They can then guide the robot to the right place without guessing. The pilot has only included a dozen or so patients, and the robotic assistant isn’t yet ready for clinical trials, but it could eventually be used for similar surgical procedures for the kidneys, the liver, or the brain.

[h/t: IEEE Spectrum]