Space is a bad place to get appendicitis. Quality health facilities in the galaxy are pretty much limited to Earth, and we’re still a few milestones away from space ambulances. However, a company called Virtual Incision is creating a fist-sized robot they hope could actually crawl inside the abdomen of an ailing astronaut and perform basic surgical procedures.
In a process which would bear eery similarity to the bug scene of The Matrix, the robot would actually enter the abdomen via a small incision in the belly button. In order to give the bot enough room to work its medical magic, the abdomen of the patient would actually be pumped full of an inert gas, effectively inflating it to create space. Once inside, the robot could perform such operations as appendectomies or treatment for gastric ulcers.
The robot has two arms loaded up with a variety of medical tools that can carry out procedures as complex as cauterizing tissue and suturing it together. The doctor bot also has a camera mounted between these arms so that an Earth-based technician can direct it remotely using a joy stick. The robot has already performed many of these procedures on pigs, meaning that if Pigs in Space becomes a reality, operating on them will be a breeze.
The Soyuz TMA spacecraft is the only current hope for a critically injured astronaut aboard the International Space Station. The spacecraft is essentially serving as an escape pod for the ISS. (WikiMedia)
NASA is eager to develop medically capable robots for space travel, because at present the responsibility of immediate medical care rests on the astronauts themselves. All astronauts must be trained in basic surgery and elemental medical procedures before going into space, just in case any sort of health emergency (alien bites, for example) should occur. But considering how much astronauts have to pack into their brains to begin with, it makes sense to shift some of the know-how off onto robotics.
Serious question: Could there come a day when you’d feel better about a robot diving inside your belly than a pair of trained human hands? Not-so-serious question: Could a robot ever diagnose obscure diseases with the stunning accuracy of Dr. Gregory House?
HT: New Scientist