Speaking at the recent 9th Battlefield Healthcare Meeting held in Virginia, Colonel, Geoffrey Ling, M.D., PhD, and Program Manager in the Defense Sciences Office for DARPA, said, “DARPA has in excess of three billion dollars to spend on innovative and aggressive projects. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is the central R&D office for the Defense Department.
Colonel Ling reports that DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics Program in this decade is going to create a fully functional (motor and sensory) upper limb that will respond to direct neural control. This program builds on DARPA’s Defense Science Office effort called the “Human Assisted Neural Devices Program which has decoded the brain’s motor signals will make it possible for the motor movements of a robotic arm to be achieved entirely by direct brain control. Currently, the initial prototypes from their two year and four year efforts are undergoing testing in human clinical trials.
According to Colonel Ling, DARPA’s Trauma Pod Program places surgical teams where and when they are most needed. Basically, the program takes medicine to the patient by not using humans and integrates tele-robotic and robotic medical systems. The initial phase has successfully automated functions typically performed by the scrub nurse and circulating nurse. These functions are now performed by semi-autonomous robots working in coordination with the tele-robotic surgeon.
So far, surgeons have performed complex surgical procedures on a simulation mannequin by operating a robot using the Trauma Pod operations console. Two procedures were performed without the aid of a scrub nurse, and the system correctly changed tools and dispensed supplies with 100 per accuracy.
Phase 2 of the program will develop and create the automatic operating room. Methods for autonomous airway control and intravenous access will be developed so that initial therapy can be administered in addition to diagnosing injuries and placing patients on IVs. Phase 2 has a 24 month time line and includes testing the overall system. In the final effort, the systems will be miniaturized and incorporated into the battlefield or mass casualty environment.
Another thrust area at DARPA includes the “Preventing Violent Explosive Neurologic Trauma (PREVENT) Program” that was put in place to protect warfighters from traumatic brain injury resulting from non-kinetic explosive effects. Specifically, the goal is to address the explosive blast injury at the molecular as well as the macroscopic scales and look at the effects on the central nervous system. The next phase will focus on the prevention of the injury and guide the development of personal protective armor.
For more information on DARPA, go to www.darpa.mil and for the conference, go to www.idga.org.