This paper presents a new class of thin, dexterous continuum robots, which we call active cannulas due to their potential medical applications. An active cannula is composed of telescoping, concentric, precurved superelastic tubes that can be axially translated and rotated at the base relative to one another. Active cannulas derive bending not from tendon wires or other external mechanisms but from elastic tube interaction in the backbone itself, permitting high dexterity and small size, and dexterity improves with miniaturization. They are designed to traverse narrow and winding environments without relying on ldquoguidingrdquo environmental reaction forces. These features seem ideal for a variety of applications where a very thin robot with tentacle-like dexterity is needed. In this paper, we apply beam mechanics to obtain a kinematic model of active cannula shape and describe design tools that result from the modeling process. After deriving general equations, we apply them to a simple three-link active cannula. Experimental results illustrate the importance of including torsional effects and the ability of our model to predict energy bifurcation and active cannula shape.