Pushing Telemedicine's Boundaries...Into Outer Space

NASA's Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot currently stationed on the International Space Station, is undergoing "training" with the hopes that it may eventually be able to perform medical and surgical tasks while in outer space, according to a BBC News report.

Though still in early stages of training, NASA plans to utilize Robonaut 2, or any of the other Robonauts, as a telemedicine doctor. Zsolt Garami, MD, one of the researchers and trainers of Robonaut 2, said the robot has the potential for precise, complex work, such as endovascular surgery, according to the report.

Currently, one Robonaut on Earth is being trained to find a pulse in a dummy's neck and to insert a needle into a vein. The hope is that such robots can perform life-saving operations on crew members in space, according to the report.

Robonaut 2 is controlled by a crew member on the ground who uses virtual reality face masks and gloves, though it can also be controlled by a computer, according to the report.

However, there remains a time lag in this type of surgical medicine between when the surgeon or controller does something and the robot copies that action. The time lag between Earth and the International Space Station can be up to a couple of seconds, and the lag increases the further away the robot is. A time lag could result in the robot making an incision too deep or too shallow, according to the report. Although, Robonaut 2 could assist astronauts in the International Space Station who are performing procedures, "offer[ing] them an extra pair of hands," according to the report.

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