A tiny remote-controlled robot surgeon is nearing completion (after 20 years of development!) And will soon be sent to the most exclusive location known: the International Space Station (ISS). In collaboration with the robotics company Virtual Engraving, engineers at the University of Nebraska have developed a solution that allows medical experts to perform surgeries remotely.
It's called "miniaturized in vivo robotic assistant", for MIRA friends. It can be remotely controlled and even perform surgery on its own - NASA plans to test its capabilities in space within the next two years.
A robot surgeon (to me it looks like a kitchen multifunction, but okay)
At first glance, the robot that weighs less than a kilo looks almost like a small kitchen utensil: a hand blender, to be precise. It has an elongated body that houses some switches and a claw at its end: make yourself comfortable, it is the claw that performs the actual surgery.
Needless to mention the presence of several cameras that help pilot the assistant surgeon from a distance. They will be useful for ground crew to see how MIRA will perform aboard the ISS. Indeed, in NASA's 2024 programs there are completely autonomous tests: the robot will cut sutures, push cylinders along a guide, things like that, to train itself to be serious at other times.
If we stay on our planet, however, MIRA already has a pretty good record. The remote surgeon responded to commands even from 1500 kilometers away, even performing resections of a colon without creating any problems for the operated tissues.
What will MIRA be used for on the ISS?
I doubt that this contraption will provide medical care to astronauts in the short or medium term. It will be necessary to understand in the coming years how much MIRA responds to the stresses of space, and how well it works in zero gravity environments.
If these steps are passed, however, I do not rule out that medical professionals (both from afar and aboard) will use MIRA as a surgeon's aid to perform operations on astronauts. Virtual Incision says this will be possible within 50 years, pushing 100 years for a fully autonomous surgery in space. But maybe he just says it to reassure.
"As people go further and further into space, one day they may need surgery," he says Shane Farritor, engineering professor and co-founder of Virtual Incision, in a Press release. "We are working towards this goal".
MIRA is NASA's second recent attempt to bring futuristic healthcare to the ISS. At the beginning of the year the agency he teleported holographically (or rather, "holoported") the surgeon Dr. Josef Schmidt broadcasting his live 3D avatar on the space station.
It's starting to get a little too much like Star Trek: Next Generation, isn't it? Call "The Doctor" (Robert Picardo), soon.