Tiny medical robots could one day provide emergency surgery in space
Tiny medical robots could one day operate inside an astronaut's body during an emergency in space.
A fist-sized robot is scheduled for its first zero-gravity test in the next several months-one small step toward enabling robotic medical attention for humans stuck on deep-space missions lasting for months.
The compact robot is the product of Virtual Incision and researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, New Scientist reported.
It's designed to slip inside a person's body through a small belly button incision-not unlike the dreaded robotic "bug" from 'The Matrix'-and inflate the patient's abdominal cavity with an inert gas to create room to work. Two arms tipped with multiple tools can perforate gastric ulcers, cauterize and suture wounds, or perform emergency appendectomies.
A human operator would control the robot using two Phantom Omni haptic devices that provide feedback, a monitor, and a foot pedal.
Both the surgeon user interface and robot will get a chance to show off human-robotic coordination during a test run aboard a parabolic flight that's designed to mimic zero-gravity by diving to provide the illusion of weightlessness.
Emergency situations requiring the robot's assistance would hopefully be rare. But a presentation at the NASA Human Research Program Investigator's Workshop noted that such medical scenarios have been reported at remote locations during Arctic or Antarctic expeditions and during military submarine service.
That suggests future astronauts and other space explorers could benefit from such technology while living at remote moon bases or Mars colonies far from Earth.
(Posted on 05-04-2014)