DARPA’s Battlefield Robot Medic to Deploy in 2009

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This year is the 50th anniversary of DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon research arm who turns science fiction fantasy into military reality.  DARPA conducts high-risk military research and in the process develops amazing medical technology.  To kick things off right at their 3-day DARPA tech conference (or official site here) they announced the upcoming deployment of the remote battlefield medic/surgeon Trauma Pod robotic system by 2009!  Surgical robotics was initially conceived by DARPA as remote battlefront or space surgical robots and this technology is now widely available in the DaVinci surgical robots. 

As Popular Mechanics reported from the Conference:  (skip to the end for links to videos)

the first portable, self-contained surgical robot will be deployed in the next two years. Brett Giroir, director of the research agency’s Defense Sciences Office also announced that the system, called Trauma Pod, has successfully “treated” a mannequin during a test, with no complications.

A single human will operate the robot remotely during surgery, but Trauma Pod will be able to perform a number of functions, such as fluid administration and surgical assistance, autonomously. The goal is to stabilize injured soldiers as quickly as possible, and previous Trauma Pod designs have included related systems that evacuate the patient. Giroir said that a prototype will be delivered to troops within two years.

Details of the System and its Use:

According to DSO Director Brett Giroir, the goal of the Trauma Pod is to conduct “emergency control surgery.” That means diagnosing and treating major trauma, focusing on airway management, head wounds and, as Giroir put it, “controlling uncontrollable bleeding.”

And while a surgeon will be controlling some of the Pod’s functions, such as the more invasive procedures, the system relies heavily on autonomous control. The robots in the Pod would insert breathing tubes and IVs, but the surgeon would direct the scalpel. Even during remote operation, auto-targeting systems will assist the surgeon, completing or fine-turning certain actions. “It’s not doing surgery the way a person is,” Giroir said. Instead of an exercise in advanced telepresence, the Trauma Pod is a synthesis of human judgement and robotic precision. Much of the surgeon’s input will be to tell the robots not to do something, such as inserting a breathing tube. Many of the systems are still up in the air, but Giroir expects the Pod to rely on CT scans for diagnosing trauma, and various surgical instruments that, as depicted in the video, the robots will literally grab out of a rack. It might incorporate technology from other programs, such as a device that triggers coagulation in a severed artery through high-intensity focused ultrasound.

Getting the patient off the battlefield and into a hospital is another matter. While the Pod is supposed to eventually meet certain size and weight restrictions, there are no plans yet to incorporate specific vehicles. Giroir does believe it will be compact enough to fit in the back of a Stryker vehicle, for example, and the experimental model that will be delivered in two years might still need to be trimmed down. The Trauma Pod is expected to be used by the Army initially, with possible, full-production deployment happening between 2011 and 2013. That’s a very rough estimate from Giroir, and much of the timing will depend on how quickly the system can be miniaturized, and whether it actually works.

Giroir was also excited about the Pod’s potential civilian use, for when trauma centers are often too far away to save a patient’s life. Local hospitals could stock a single Trauma Pod, and have a surgeon thousands of miles away assist in stabilizing the patient.

They say there are no video or photos available but here at docinthemachine I posted a report and videos of the systems concept and prototypes back last year.  You see the post and all the clips at Awesome Army Videos-Terminator 2025 Battlefield Surgery Built NOW!

For Those Who Want More DARPA Hi Tech Medical Information:  I have prevously written about DARPA and the medical offshoots of its research .  You can read about why DARPA can take the big risks in medical development private industry won’t in Risky Business:Why DARPA Does What Medical Industry Won’t.  Be sure to read Army Axing High-Tech Soldier of Tomorrow- MedTech Losses Predicted for all ofthemedicalbenefits of the Soldier of Tomorrow “Land Warrior” Program.  You can read about the history and future projects planned by DARPA in 2007 in DARPA Releases Strategic Plan 2007 and about it’s amazing array of projects in DARPA 2007 Pt2: Major Achievements, Future Plans, & Medical Benefits (including Newton’s Laws for Biology, Prosthetics, Biological Warfare Defense, and Real-Time Accurate Language Translation). 

Come back tomorrow for my next post reviewing the other robots they showcased…

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