First Zero-Gravity Surgical Robot Demonstration

First Zero-Gravity Surgical Robot Demonstration
A robot aboard the Aquarius Undersea Laboratory on the ocean floor stitches together a simulated wound. A Canadian doctor sitting at a control interface 1,300 miles away directed the robot's movements. (Image credit: UNCW/NOAA/NASA.)

SRIInternational, a nonprofit R&D organization, will conduct the firstdemonstration of a teleoperated surgical robot in a zero-gravity environmentthis week. The robot is controlled with a special interface by a skilled surgeonhundreds of miles away.

The SRI robotic surgical system is designed to be stored ina very compact space for space travel. Astronauts will reassemble the devicefor use in the event of illness requiring surgical intervention.

The system was successfullytested underwater in the Aquariusundersea laboratory off the coast of Florida earlier this year. A Canadiansurgeon successfully utilized the device to perform a vascular suturingoperation from fifteen hundred miles away (see photo).

Now, however, SRI researchers are testing the device in theextreme environment of zero gravity. The tests will be done over a period offour days aboard a NASA C-9 aircraft. The plane undergoes a series of parabolicflight maneuvers that simulates, for a brief period, the microgravityenvironment of space.

"Inprevious experiments, SRI successfully demonstrated how robots can bemanipulated remotely and set-up with minimal training. We are now extendingthat technology to movement and weightlessness, critical elements of any spacetravel program," said Thomas Low, director of SRI?s Medical Devices andRobotics program.

SRI-developed software is intended to help the robotcompensate for errors in movement that can occur in moments of turbulence ortransitions in gravitational field strength. The experiment will compare thesame surgical tasks performed by a physician who is physically present on theplane with those performed remotely using the teleoperated robot.

SRI is pioneering other remotely-operated surgical systems;they are working with DARPAon the TraumaPod Battlefield Medical Treatment System; The trauma pod is used to treatsoldiers on the battlefield using advanced diagnostics and teleoperatedinstruments.


Science fiction writers were arguably the first to imaginesuch things; the telemedicineapparatus from E.M. Forster's 1909 story The Machine Stops is a veryearly inspiration to real-life roboticists. More recently, science fictionwriter Peter Watts vividly visualized a teleoperated medical mantisthat could perform surgery deep beneath the sea's surface.


Via SRI press release.


(This Science Fiction in the News story used withpermission of - wherescience meets fiction)

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