Robo paramedics: VR robotics in military medical care
The University of Sheffield is researching robo-paramedics using VR robotics to help wounded soldiers.
To save the lives of injured comrades, medics often put their own lives in danger. Moreover, battlefield conditions severely limit the possibilities for medical assessment. In many cases, the wounded must first be moved to a safe area for preliminary assessment. This can take hours, depending on the situation.
For this reason, researchers at the University of Sheffield are working on remote-controlled robots that can treat wounded soldiers in the midst of battle without endangering others. The project, called the Medical Telexistence Platform (MediTel), consists of an unmanned ground vehicle on one side and an operator station on the other.
Flesh-and-blood medics sit at a safe distance and control the machines using a VR headset, haptic gloves, and the latest technology from robotic surgery.
Funded by the UK Ministry of Defense
The robots are being developed by the University of Sheffield 's Automatic Control and Systems Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC). That department collaborates with British robotics company i3DRobotics and experts in emergency medicine.
The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), an agency of the UK Ministry of Defence, supports the research. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which decommissions, cleans, and dismantles nuclear facilities on behalf of the government, is also a supporter.
As a first step, the robots will be able to perform triage, or medical pre-screening. Other planned features include taking photos and videos of injuries, measuring body temperature and blood pressure, and taking blood samples.
VR robotics is in early stages of development
The remote-controlled robots would also be suitable for non-military missions. For example, combating epidemics, or stepping in for emergency personnel in the event of nuclear disasters.
"The project brings together world-leading robotics researchers with AMRC engineers:ers with the goal of developing medical telepresence technology. The project builds on previous research and uses state-of-the-art VR and haptic feedback for remote telepresence," said David King, the research department's digital director. The MediTel system will be tested in realistic scenarios, he said.
The idea of combining robotics and remote control with VR technology is not new. Earlier potential use cases include Mars colonization, remote work, and bomb disposal. However, research is still in its infancy. Virtual reality itself has not yet reached full maturity in important sub-aspects such as passthrough technology and haptics.