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With SRI as lead integrator, DARPA collaborators demonstrated how a remotely operated trauma pod could deliver emergency first-response treatment in the battlefield to stabilize patients for transport.
Telepresence surgery technology, first developed by SRI for the U.S. Army in the 1980s, could one day help military units dramatically increase the chance of survival. Injured soldiers could receive rapid medical intervention on the battlefield, without requiring the physical presence of medical providers.
With advances in stereo imaging, telerobotics, video, telecommunications, and haptics (the technology of touch), telepresence simulates the sensory experience of conventional surgery, except that surgeons operate through a console interface. The surgeon sees a three-dimensional image of the surgical field while operating through a buttonhole-size incision. The less-invasive nature of the surgery means the patient experiences less pain and has a shorter recovery time.
In 2005, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) selected SRI to lead the Trauma Pod project, a groundbreaking attempt to develop a future generation of battlefield-based "trauma pods"—trauma care systems that could be controlled by a surgeon miles away from the front lines.
In the project's initial phases, SRI and its partners developed a system that
- Captured 3D patient scans
- Viewed simulated CT images to diagnose the injury
- Sutured a simulated bowel section
- Placed a shunt in the groin of the simulated patient
With 100% accuracy, a surgeon used spoken commands to direct a robot to present tools and supplies to a surgical robot, similar to direction of nurses and medical technicians in a traditional operating room.
The project drew on SRI’s experience in medical robotics and ability to integrate technology through a flexible approach. The team worked closely with physicians to understand traumatic injury and the most critical initial procedures.
If fully developed, the technology also has the potential to deliver emergency medical and surgical care in extreme environments, such as for astronauts during space flights and for people living in remote regions.