UNL robot set for testing in space

With the help of a team at UNL, astronauts and soldiers may soon rely on robots to conduct surgery.
Published: Aug. 5, 2022 at 7:15 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) -With the help of a team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, astronauts and soldiers may soon rely on robots to conduct surgery.

As part of a $100 million experiment, NASA is sending a Husker-developed robot into space. The robot is called MIRA, or Miniaturized in Vivo Robotic Assistant. It was invented by Virtual Incision, a startup company based on the Nebraska Innovation Campus.

MIRA can be inserted through a small incision to perform abdominal surgery and it could allow surgeons to work remotely. It may even allow doctors on earth to perform surgery in space.

Dr. Shane Farritor, an engineering professor and co-founder of Virtual Incision, is one of the minds behind the program. He and his colleagues have worked on this project for nearly 20 years.

“This is a technology demonstration just to show what’s possible,” Farritor said. “But NASA wants to go further into space and for longer time so if you get long missions to the moon or to Mars. So they’re going to need to develop more and more advanced medical care, the longer we stay out there and the further we go.”

NASA recently awarded UNL $100,000 to ready the robot for the text mission. The U.S. Army also contributed funding, with the hopes that injured soldiers on the battlefield could be operated on remotely.

The surgical robot will be launched to the International Space Station in 2024. It will cut rubber bands and push metal rings, two actions common in surgery.

Until then, Virtual Incision is developing an experiment locker for zero gravity, and the engineers are preparing for clinical trials. Farritor hopes MIRA will operate on its own in 50 to 100 years.

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