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

, weighs nearly a half-ton. Raven weighs only 50 pounds.

Lightweight, mobile robots could travel to wounded soldiers on the battlefield to treat combat injuries. Surgical robotic systems also could be used in disaster areas so doctors worldwide could perform emergency procedures. The robots could even travel to remote areas in the developing world so local doctors could get help on difficult procedures. NASA will test the robot's suitability for a mission to space, where it could perform emergency surgery without requiring a surgeon to be onboard.

Raven went on its first road trip last summer to California's Simi Valley. Researchers installed an operating-room tent in gusting winds and temperatures nearing 100 degrees F (40 C), and hooked the equipment up to gasoline-powered generators. Surgeons completed the first field test communicating with the operating tent using an unmanned aircraft equipped with a wireless transmitter.

The NASA mission poses new challenges. Researchers shrank the computers and power supplies that support the robot so they can be carried in dive bags by technical scuba divers and fit into the limited space. Most importantly, the engineers wrote an instructional manual so crew members could reassemble the robot and troubleshoot any problems they encounter.

'When you build a technology as a lab prototype, it takes someone with a Ph.D. six weeks to put it together,' Hannaford said. 'If you build something for the field, it's got to be repairable, modular and robust.'

Once everything is installed in the undersea lab the crew will be alone with the robot. Crew members can communicate by phone with the ground team but they will have to operate the robot and fix any problems on their own. The four-person crew includes research collaborator and surgeon Dr. Tim Broderick of the University of Cincinnati, who will observe the robot's movements and determine its suitability for space travel. Two
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