Doctors could don virtual reality (VR) headsets and remotely control a tank-like medical robot to save lives in future.

The scenario has been made possible by the MediTel (Medical Telexistence) project at the University of Sheffield, which developed the robotic system to provide medical assistance in high-risk situations.

Researchers from the university’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), Sheffield Robotics, and Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering created the uncrewed ground vehicle (UGV), which enables medics and operators to use VR to assess critical casualties in hazardous environments, allowing them to perform remote triage while also ensuring their safety.

The system, which was developed in just nine months, features two robotic arms that can operate medical tools to perform an initial assessment of a casualty within 20 minutes. This includes temperature, blood pressure and heart rate checks, as well as examining the abdomen and administering pain relief through an auto-injector, all 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 David King, head of digital design at the AMRC.

“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.”

Professor Sanja Dogramadzi, director of Sheffield Robotics, said: “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 [to] look into enabling resilient autonomy and integrating other sensing modalities to assist patient triage in other remote settings.”

MediTel was one of three novel telexistence technologies funded through a £2.3m innovation competition run by the Defence and Security Accelerator (Dasa), on behalf of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

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

“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 defence and security environments.”

As part of the project work, the AMRC designed and created a prototype of the UGV and integrated the overall MediTel system, while the Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering led the development of the robotics controls. Extensive lab and field testing was carried out, which an AMRC announcement said “proved the UGV could assess and triage a casualty successfully”.

The team aims to build on the project's success by seeking further funding and partners. King and Dogramadzi said the future vision of MediTel would be to explore the development of the technology into a “large-scale integrated medical emergency platform”, capable of being rapidly deployed to humanitarian disasters with multiple casualties and enabling remote medics to provide critical lifesaving treatment.

Extracted from IMechE website, read more here

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