Space is scary enough on its own, but if one of its many horrors causes astronauts to need medical attention, someone needs to step up, and that someone might just be a robot surgeon that crawls into their bodies through their belly buttons.
The robot isn’t quite as tiny and sophisticated as the one that crawled into Neo’s belly button and gave us all nightmares for a month in The Matrix. It’s about the size of a fist, so the patient’s abdominal cavity needs to be filled with gas first to give it room to work before they can be safely reverse-Alien-ed.
Respect, astronauts. Your job is so dangerous and deadly that having a tiny robot climb inside you while your abdomen is inflated like a balloon is a preferable outcome when something bad happens.
Right now, astronauts are screened for health concerns before going into space, and if they’re sick, might become sick, or might make anyone else sick, they get sidelined faster than Gary Sinese in Apollo 13. In the future, though, humans are (hopefully) going to go on much longer space missions to destinations like Mars or distant asteroids, and they’ll need longer term health solutions.
So far, the robot has performed a few procedures on pigs, but the trick is to make sure it’s capable of performing in zero gravity. In space, liquids like blood float freely and could become a problem, and the robot would have to maneuver differently. “It must be an emergency if you would consider surgery in space,” says robot surgeon team member Shane Farritor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Yes, sticking a robot inside someone is a last-resort-only type of thing.
The company building the little robot doctor, Virtual Incision, is planning to test its zero-g functionality on in-atmosphere parabolic flights that mimic the weightlessness of space.
Luckily, they’ve got time, because we’re still a ways away from flying humans all the way to Mars. That should give all of our future intrepid explorers the time to work up the nerve to take the risk that a robot might have to crawl around their insides as they boldly go where no man has gone before, right?
(via New Scientist, image via The Matrix)
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