If you are in deep space and need an emergency surgery you currently have to rely on the medical expertise of one of your crew members. But in the not too distant future, astronauts on long missions may be able to count on a mini-robot that can actually perform surgery from inside the human body.

The mini-surgeon is able to slip into the body through a small incision in the navel. The abdominal cavity is filled with gas to give the robot room to work. Once the bot is in the abdominal cavity, it can repair a perforated gastric ulcer, removed pieces from a diseased colon or remove a ruptured appendix.

Created by Virtual Incision in Lincoln, Nebraska, the fist-sized robot is due to make its zero-gravity debut in the coming months. It will perform a series of exercises to demonstrate its dexterity by manipulating different objects.

One of the main advantages of the bot is its ability to perform surgery from inside the body. Surgery in space is extremely dangerous. In a zero-gravity environment blood and other bodily fluids can easily float free and contaminate the vessel.

“Everything that we take for granted, even something as simple as putting a Band Aid down on a table, is difficult in space,” says Dmitry Oleynikov at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “That difficulty increases logarithmically when you’re trying to do complex procedures such as an operation.”

Virtual Incision’s prototype robots have performed numerous medical procedures in pigs. The next stage is to test its expertise on human cadavers, then eventually move on to living humans here on earth. Once the surgeon bot is primed to go, Virtual Incision plan to train astronauts to perform procedures on each other using joysticks to remotely operate the bot.


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