Engineers develop robot medics that can go where doctors can’t

The machines will be put to use in humanitarian disasters and war zones.
Loukia Papadopoulos
The new robot in action.jpg
The new robot in action.

University of Sheffield  

There’s a new way to reach casualties in high-risk emergency environments where doctors cannot go. Researchers at the University of Sheffield have developed a robot that can provide first aid in extremely dangerous situations, saving lives while protecting medical personnel.

This is according to a press release by the institution published on Friday.

The new machine uses medical telexistence (MediTel) technology and was developed in just nine months. It boasts two robotic arms and virtual reality systems which can effectively remotely operate medical tools to perform a critical initial assessment of a casualty within 20 minutes, carry out a palpation of the abdomen and administer pain relief through an auto-injector, autonomously while streaming real time data to the remote operator.

 “Our MediTel project has demonstrated game-changing medical telexistence technology that has the potential to save lives and provide remote assessment and treatment of casualties in high-risk environments such as humanitarian disasters,” said project lead and head of digital design at the University’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre David King.

“Developing and field testing a state-of-the-art, complex system such as MediTel in just nine months has been an incredible achievement and a testament to the skills and capabilities of the entire project team.”

“MediTel combined existing medical devices with state-of-the-art robotics systems to develop a platform capable of allowing a remote operator to navigate through potentially difficult terrain and provide critical diagnoses of high-risk casualties.”

The new robot was funded through a two-phase innovation competition run by the Defence and Security Accelerator. It could soon be put to use in hazardous environments in humanitarian disasters and war zones. 

“Telexistence technologies have the potential to remove end users from harmful environments and/or rapidly insert specialists as required,” said Dr Nicky Armstrong, technical lead at Dstl.

“The prototype technologies developed under the Dstl Telexistence project have enabled us to demonstrate the art of the possible to end users, so that we can better understand where telexistence could add value to defense and security environments."

The work is not complete however as the team seeks to add even more functionalities to the robot.

“This project has allowed us the opportunity to develop a platform that could be used by multiple emergency response services. It now serves us with the basis for our research to be extended and look into enabling resilient autonomy and integrating other sensing modalities to assist patient triage in other remote settings,” concluded in the statement Sanja Dogramadzi, Professor of Medical Robotics and Intelligent Health Technologies at the University’s Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering and Director of Sheffield Robotics.