Robotic surgery in space I.

Human space flights have always been cost demanding due to the increased safety measures required to protect the astronauts. Throughout the missions on board of Skylab, the Russian MIR or the International Space Station (ISS), numerous health risks have been identified. In the case of long duration space missions beyond Earth orbit–such as the scheduled Mars mission
or the permanent Moon base–there is an increased health hazard. Several medical problems may arise involving the bone system, the gall bladder, the pancreas, the appendix, the urinal system or the blood circulation. No matter how thoroughly the astronauts are monitored beforehand, the chance of sudden illness or injury cannot be excluded. Patients have to be treated (including surgical procedures) not to endanger the success of the whole mission.
Along this idea NASA and DARPA have sponsored various research projects to develop a light-weight and universal robotic tool for space missions.
The BioRobotics Lab at University of Washington have developed a portable surgical robot that can be a compromised solution to install on spacecrafts with its 22 kg overall mass. The robot–called Raven–has two articulated arms, each holding a stainless steel shaft for different surgical tools. It can easily be assembled even by non-engineers, and its communication links have been designed for long distance remote-control. Besides the possibility of haptic feedback, additional sensors are mounted on the robot, to provide more information to the surgeon and to avoid any critical failure due to communication delay. Throughout the entire development, compactness was handled as priority, the creators optimized the robot’s dimensions and motion by computer, minimizing the space it occupies without compromising on manipulation capabilities.
Realizing the importance of a light, but stiff structure, SRI International in Menlo Park, California started to develop the M7 in 1998, another portable and deployable light-weight surgical robot (Figure 3.). The system weights only 15 kg, but able to exert significant forces compared to its size. The system consists of two 7DOF arms, and is equipped with motion scaling (1:10), tremor filtering and haptic feedback. The effectors used by the robot can be changed very rapidly, and even laser tissue welding tool can be fixed on it. The controller has been designed to operate under extremely different atmospheric conditions, and for this purpose the robot only contains solid-state memory drives. The software of the M7 has been updated lately to better suit the requirements of teleoperation and communication via Ethernet cable.
The German Aerospace Center (DLR) has already built several generations of light-weight robotic arms for ground and space application. Their 7DOF surgical robot is called KineMedic, and as one arm is only 10 kg and capably of handling 30 N payload with high accuracy, it is considered for space use as well. Its industrial version is equipped with a dexterous 4-finger artificial hand, and has already won several awards. The most recent development is called the MIRO that is capable of performing da Vinci-style MIS operations.
Engineers at the University of Nebraska together with the physicians of the local Medical Center had detached from the classic manipulator design, and developed a special mobile in-vivo wheeled robot for biopsy. Equipped with a camera, the coin-sized robot can enter the abdominal cavity through one small incision and move teleoperated around the organs. The robot is able to traverse the abdominal organs without causing any damage, therefore reduces the patient trauma. The lead-screw linkage system actuating the graspers enables relatively large force production. The revolutionary robot project evolved into a new direction, dealing with self-assembling micro-manipulators with magnetic anchoring.


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