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Precise control of automated invasive surgical tools requires real-time identification of tissue types and their deformation. At the focus of this paper is the epidural puncture, for which it is shown that the tissue type and deformation can respectively be determined from laser-based spectroscopy and the change in force required to push the needle through the various tissues. Studies have shown that physiological variations from one patient to another are too great to allow absolute values to be reliably used to indicate the position of the needle tip. However, the pattern of force variation during penetration is shown to be similar between specimens. Interpretation of this information in conjunction with spectroscopic techniques can be used to discriminate between tissues and tissue structure at the needle tip. This paper describes results from an investigation on automatic techniques for interpreting the type and deformation of tissues under tool action.