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Robotic Surgeon to Team Up With Doctors, Astronauts on NASA Mission

This week Raven, the mobile surgical robot developed by the University of Washington, leaves for the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. The UW will participate// in NASA's mission to submerge a surgeon and robotic gear in a simulated spaceship. For 12 days the surgical robotic system will be put through its paces in an underwater capsule that mimics conditions in a space shuttle. Surgeons back in Seattle will guide its movements.

The 12th NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations test will take place May 7 to 18 off the coast of Florida. The robot leaves Seattle on Friday. During the mission, Raven will operate in the Aquarius Undersea Laboratory, a submarine-like research pod about 60 feet underwater. This mission will test current technology for sending remote-controlled surgical robotic systems into space.

During the mission, four crew members will assemble the robot and perform experiments. The two larger-than-life black robotic arms will use surgical instruments to suture a piece of rubber and move blocks from one spindle to another on what looks like a delicate children's toy. The brains behind the robot's movements will be three surgeons in front of a computer screen in Seattle: Drs. Mika Sinanan and Andrew Wright of the University of Washington's Medical Center, and Dr. Thomas Lendvay of Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle.

Instructions will travel over a commercial Internet connection from Seattle to Key Largo, Fla. then via a special wireless connection from there to a buoy, and finally via cable underwater. Images of the simulated patient will travel back over the same network.

Raven was built over the past five years in the UW's BioRobotics Lab, co-directed by professor Blake Hannaford and research associate professor Jacob Rosen in the department of electrical engineering, with partners in the UW's department of surgery. The da Vinci surgical robot, which is used at the UW and elsewhere
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