PURPOSE: Robotic and mechatronic devices that work compatibly with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are applied in diagnostic MRI, image-guided surgery, neurorehabilitation and neuroscience. MRI-compatible mechatronic systems must address the challenges imposed by the scanner's electromagnetic fields. We have developed objective quantitative evaluation criteria for device characteristics needed to formulate design guidelines that ensure MRI-compatibility based on safety, device functionality and image quality. METHODS: The mutual interferences between an MRI system and mechatronic devices working in its vicinity are modeled and tested. For each interference, the involved components are listed, and a numerical measure for "MRI-compatibility" is proposed. These interferences are categorized into an MRI-compatibility matrix, with each element representing possible interactions between one part of the mechatronic system and one component of the electromagnetic fields. Based on this formulation, design principles for MRI-compatible mechatronic systems are proposed. Furthermore, test methods are developed to examine whether a mechatronic device indeed works without interferences within an MRI system. Finally, the proposed MRI-compatibility criteria and design guidelines have been applied to an actual design process that has been validated by the test procedures. RESULTS: Objective and quantitative MRI-compatibility measures for mechatronic and robotic devices have been established. Applying the proposed design principles, potential problems in safety, device functionality and image quality can be considered in the design phase to ensure that the mechatronic system will fulfill the MRI-compatibility criteria. CONCLUSION: New guidelines and test procedures for MRI instrument compatibility provide a rational basis for design and evaluation of mechatronic devices in various MRI applications. Designers can apply these criteria and use the tests, so that MRI-compatibility results can accrue to build an experiential database.