Soon, a portable unit of surgical robots to replace army medics on battlefields

The Trauma Pod unit in action

Researchers in the US are working on a project that could replace army medics on a battlefield with robotic surgeons and nurses in the next 10 years.

The ‘Trauma Pod’ – being developed by US’ Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) - is currently undergoing trials.

Brendan Visser, a surgeon at Stanford University in California who helped develop the Trauma Pod, described it as: “Three separate robots dance over the top of the patient with their powerful arms moving very quickly, yet they don’t crash and they’re able to deliver very small items from one arm to another.”

The purpose of the Trauma Pod is to provide a quick “temporary fix” to wounded soldiers before being taken to the hospital.

“The system will focus on damage control surgery, which is the minimum necessary to stabilise someone. It could provide airway control, relieve life-threatening injuries such as a collapsed lung, or stop bleeding temporarily,” Pablo Garcia – of non-profit lab SRI International, which leads the project – told New Scientist magazine.

HOW IT WORKS

The Trauma Pod unit comprises one three-armed surgeon robot, assisted by 12 other robotic systems.

Remotely controlled by a human, the surgeon bot communicates with and instructs the other robots. One of its three arms holds an endoscope to allow the human controller to see inside the patient, while the other two grip surgical tools.

Garcia added that the robot could be allowed to carry out some simple tasks without human help, such as placing stitches or tying knots.

The bed itself monitors vital signs, administers fluids and oxygen, and may eventually administer anaesthesia.

A voice-activated robotic arm “Hot Lips” - derived from the nickname of a nurse in the TV series M*A*S*H - passes fresh tools and supplies to the surgeon bot. A third “circulating nurse” robot gives out the right tools.

The Trauma Pod unit recently passed the first phase of a feasibility trial, where robots treated a mannequin with bullet injuries by inserting a plastic tube into a damaged blood vessel and operating to close a perforated bowel.

The team hopes to eventually shrink the Trauma Pod to a collapsible unit encased in a portable shell that can be carried on the back of a vehicle.
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