Lincoln – a robot capable of operating independently on a sick astronaut thousands, if not millions of miles away from a modern surgical suite, sounds like science fiction.
The surgical device – let’s call it the “miniature robotic assistant in vivo” or MIRA for short – would simply be retrieved from a small cabinet, set up and turned on.
MIRA will then go to work to perform a non-surgical abdominal procedure such as a colectomy or repair a ruptured appendix, closing off her human patient upon completion.
Zero-gravity surgery may still be decades away, but a team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is preparing to send a real-life MIRA, developed by Virtual Incision, to the International Space Station.
NASA has awarded UNL $100,000 through the Stimulating Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Firmware Program to prepare the lightweight, portable robot for a 2024 test mission.
People also read…
Shane Variator, co-founder of Virtual Incision, based at the Nebraska Innovation Campus, and graduate engineering student Rachel Wagner will use the funding to set up MIRA for spaceflight.
This will involve writing a program to test the device, ensuring that it can withstand the rigors of a missile launch, as well as operate effectively in a zero-gravity environment.
“The system is now designed without autonomy for use in terrestrial applications,” Varietor said. “NASA is planning to go to some crazy places for long and long distances, so the more research we do on how that works, the better.”
Once the MIRA reaches the space station, it will be tested inside a microwave-sized experimental cabinet where it will cut tightly stretched rubber bands and push metal rings along the wire.
The experiment will be conducted without anyone having to think about it, which will keep the space station’s communication channel open and allow the astronauts to do other work.
Wagner said in a press release that Virtual Incision will monitor results closely as it seeks to further improve MIRA’s performance.
“This simulation is very important because of all the data we will collect during the tests,” said Wagner, a 2018 UNL graduate who is from Lincoln.
Surgical robots developed by Virtual Incision — which has received $100 million in venture capital funding since its founding in 2006 — were used in the procedures at Brian Medical Center.
This was part of a clinical study conducted as part of the FDA’s investigative device exemption, in which Virtual Incision is seeking full approval for the use of its robots in operating rooms across the country.
Variator said that while Virtual Incision has previously worked with NASA, there is always a “wow factor” when the US space agency asks for its invention to be blown up in space.
“It’s going to be very exciting and fun,” he said. “We wish we could make our own little workshop, and I think it will be a fun experience.”
The best photos and videos of Omaha employees in July 2022