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  1. Technology
March 29, 2005

Pentagon to digitalize wartime surgery

The Pentagon has awarded a grant to researchers at SRI International, a nonprofit research institute, to build a robot surgeon that will treat soldiers on the battlefield from within a remote-controlled, unmanned "trauma pod".

By CBR Staff Writer

If all goes to plan, human surgeons will be able to conduct emergency procedures from a safe, remote distance using surgical manipulators. This will take place immediately after the injury is sustained, stabilizing the patient prior to being evacuated to a regular operating room, from within an unmanned vehicle that will travel with the troops during battle.

The technology, supported by a reported $12m grant issued by the US military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is thought to be based on SRI’s unsuccessful 1980s battlefield surgery effort, the Da Vinci system, which is now being used in civilian hospitals to perform operations. This mechanism, with its three robotic arms, one of which carries two small cameras that transmit images to the human surgeon, was deemed too bulky and dependant on human intervention to be effective on the frontline.

SRI’s latest efforts to digitalize war surgery will aim to improve upon the Da Vinci system by further automating the process to eliminate the need for human intervention and ensuring the trauma pod remains wirelessly connected while being shielded from enemy interception.

While the contract is estimated to run for two years, SRI has warned that the technology may not be ready for wartime use for another decade at least.

The team, led by SRI, includes Westminster, Maryland-based General Dynamics Robotic Systems, Oak Ridge National Laboratory of Tennessee, the Universities of Texas, Washington and Maryland, and Robotic Surgical Tech.

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