Warfare is increasingly becoming more automated. So much so that the term ‘killer robots‘ has entered the lexicon. If humanity is fine with blowing them up using ‘bots, why not unleash a few robot medics as well? That’s the question being asked by researchers at the University of Sheffield.
It is a legitimate question to ask. Military doctors are extremely valuable. They also take a very long time to make. It doesn’t always make sense to send them to places where bullets are whizzing by. They go anyway. But they might not have to if the UK’s robo-medic plan takes off.
Virtually a real medic
If you’re picturing a nigh-invulnerable robot striding towards a firefight, surgeon’s bag in hand, think again. It’s a little more complicated than that. The so-called Medical Telexistence Platform (MediTel) is a system that lets actual, remote doctors operate a robot in the field. They would do this using virtual reality, to assess injuries and vital signs.
The robotic system could take swabs and draw blood for tests. Images and video of injuries could be sent back for assessment. In the case of illness and infection, temperature and blood pressure can also be measured without having to put a doctor’s brain directly into harm’s way.
As a result of this, on-the-spot medical treatment could be carried out by teammates. Some soldiers could be marked for extraction to an advanced care facility. Extreme cases might see a human doctor dispatched to help out robo-medic.  Since this is a triage system, the well and truly stuffed might never get to see a doctor before they expire. But that’s typical of any battlefield medical situation.
“Developing a remotely-operated robotic system would significantly improve safety by reducing the amount of danger military personnel are exposed to on the frontline. Our platform uses the latest technology and would integrate it in a way that hasn’t been done before,” said Sheffield’s Professor Sanja Dogramadz.
David King, head of the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, added, “The project brings together world-leading robotics researchers working with engineers from the AMRC to develop medical telexistence technology. The project builds on previous research to demonstrate the state-of-the-art technology for VR and haptic feedback for remote telepresence.”
“The MediTel system will be trialled in a realistic scenario and demonstrate the potential of the technology to save lives in the future”
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