Surgery in space: Nasa helps develop Matrix-like robot that slips in through your belly button

Don't worry - it's not as terrifying as it looks, see below for a video of the prototype robo-surgeon being tested out (but not on a human)

Performing surgery in space is difficult. Not only do you have about as much elbow room as a telephone box, but you’ve also got to avoid getting bodily fluids on any of that delicate machinery keeping you alive - hardly an easy thing when you’re floating in zero gravity.

In order to get around these problems, Nasa has teamed up with American medical company Virtual Incision to develop a robot that can be placed inside a patient’s body and then controlled remotely by a surgeon.

Their current prototype (below) is designed to slip in via the belly button, entering the abdominal cavity (which has been inflated with an inert gas to give the bot a little more space to work with) to carry out a range of general surgeries from appendectomies to the repair of internal bleeding.

Although this image may bring to mind sci-fi horrors such as the interrogation scene from the first Matrix in which Agent Smith produces a wriggling, insect-like bot that burrows into Neo's belly button, the technology being developed could save lives.

"While this work is in an early phase, the minimal invasiveness of this approach could enable its use in remote locations such as on a moon or Mars colony," writes Shane Farritor, a University of Nebraska researcher working on the technology.

“Although the likelihood of these accidents is low, it has been reported on other remote locations including North Pole expeditions and submarine service.”

So far Nasa has been lucky enough that none of its astronauts have ever needed surgery, but there have been similar cases in other remote locations. In 1961 a Russian surgeon named Leonid Rogozov had to perform an appendectomy on himself while working in Antarctica – but even Rogozov didn’t have to worry about his bodily fluids flying about in zero G.

The robots being developed by Nasa and its partners aim to solve this problem by doing away with the need for open surgery. However, this technology could also be useful for doctors at home: no-one's body reacts particularly well to being opened up and poked around in.

In the video above you can see the robot being remotely controlled by a pair of joysticks. Although it doesn’t look like the sort of object that could easily ‘slip’ into your abdomen the pair of stalk-like arms actually fold together to give it a slimmer profile.

The bot weighs just 0.4kg (an important factor for weight-sensitive spacecraft) and has a video camera located between the two arms – each of which have attachments to help them hold, cauterise and suture tissue.

Currently the technology has only been tested on pigs, though the researchers involved are hoping to move to human cadavers – and then finally living humans on Earth.

Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

    £70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - SQL Server, T-SQL

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Data Analyst (SQL Server, T-SQL, data)

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst...

    Ashdown Group: European Recruitment Manager - Cheshire - up to £48,000

    £40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus and benefits: Ashdown Group: European Recrui...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence