How a Robot Arm in Space inspired tech for Surgery on Earth

How a Robot Arm in Space inspired tech for Surgery on Earth

The robotic arm on International Space Station is inspiring Doctors

Space exploration is given immense importance as efforts are being made to search a place where humans can survive other than the Earth. The hefty sum of money is spent annually to pursue this ultimate goal. The knowledge of space is also helping us to know the details about our planet. Discovering other universes is another major cause of the space missions. Recently, it was claimed that astronomers have found signs of the first ‘Parallel Universe’.

All these tours of space have many complications associated with them. Man-bound ventures have to be planned and monitored in a way that is secure for the astronomer making the journey. A great development has come forward in this regard which will make space surgery much safer on the Earth.

A robotic arm is available on the International Space Station. It is called Canadarm2 and flew its initial launch in 2001. At first, the purpose of this arm was to help with the construction procedure. However, latest reports suggest that it is being used to capture cargo spaceships that visit the station. Orbital ATK’s Cygnus and SpaceX’s Dragon are notable ships in this regard. The Canadian program manager of the space station expressed his views in a NASA video and said,

The International Space Station was essentially designed like a Lego toy, with lots of big pieces that could be put together. Some of those pieces are going to be about the size of a city bus. We needed a way of manipulating and moving these big pieces and very precisely putting them together.”

As the amount of precision involved in space-related work is extremely high, medical companies have shown their interest in developing surgical tools that will have the same standard. The Canadian Space Agency announced in 2013 that a Toronto based company, Synaptive Medical, wants to develop a neurosurgery tool that will be much more efficient and safe for both patients and the surgeons. Maxar Technologies (contractor of Canadarm2) collaborated with Synaptive to come up with a version of that tool in 2015.

ISS Robotic arm

The name given to it was “BrightMatter Drive”. Josh Richmond, Director of Engineering at Synaptive, talked about his vision and the experience of their company and said,

Knowing that MDA has done this before in space, we thought it would be very easy for them to bring that experience and that technology into the neurosurgical area and help us with our medical robotics.”

The journey was not as straight-forward as he thought but a working version was launched within 2 years. It was regarded as a massive revolution that has the potential of improving the methodologies of human surgeries. The efforts were continued to come up with something that is more advanced and efficient. All the hard work did pay well when an improved version of the Drive was released in 2017. It is called Modus V. According to the reports of the Canadian Space Agency, the modern version of this amazing technology is being used in 30 hospitals in different parts of North America.

The working of this robotic arm is based on the tracking mechanism. As it follows you all the time, the speed of the surgery process is increased as the passive time is minimized. Every second count in complex surgeries and having a greater efficiency can save a precious life. Gavin Britz, chairman of neurosurgery at Houston Methodist Hospital, is one of those surgeons who used this technology and he praised it in the following words,

What this arm does is it follows you and it tracks you. It speeds up efficiency.”

The use of Canadarm Technology is quite extensive in the field of medicine. It is quite popular for medical spin-offs. These are those products which are developed by taking help of NASA through research and development contracts. This involves the use of NASA’s facilities or licensing their patents. Another important application is the ‘Image-Guided Autonomous Robot’.

It is developed to help with the breast cancer surgeries. Similarly, ‘neuroArm’ has been designed to perform surgical procedures inside magnetic resonance machines. All in all, it can be said that transforming this space technology to medical surgery has proved beneficial for mankind and it is safe to predict that we will find more uses of it.

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