This collaboration is building a robotic suit that saves lives
“The golden hour” is a well-known phrase to trauma surgeons and all emergency medical practitioners who work to save lives on a daily basis.
The term refers to the hour immediately following the patient receiving a serious injury – the valuable 60-minute window from the time of injury to the patient receiving definitive care, after which morbidity and mortality are believed to increase significantly.
While it’s considered more a metaphor than a strict medical term, the idea that definitive trauma care must be initiated within 60 minutes has spawned a billion-dollar industry of trauma systems, trauma centers, aeromedical rescue, and advanced pre-hospital life support.
Of course, each case and each patient is different and should be considered as such, the “golden hour” dictum captures the idea that stabilisation and fast treatment of a trauma patient can mean the difference between life and death.
Nowhere is this more true than on the battlefield, where wounded soldiers require immediate attention in unimaginably difficult circumstances. The very nature of the situation can lead to delayed care or sometimes actions that do more damage than good.
To combat this serious concern, the US Department of Defence has awarded four-year contracts worth a total of US$7.2 million to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (UPMC) and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) to work on a solution.
The resulting design from initial ideas is an autonomous trauma care system that can fit in a rucksack.
According to CMU, the TRAuma Care In a Rucksack (TRACIR) will use advanced sensors, robotics, and artificial intelligence to autonomously treat battlefield casualties almost immediately.
“Battlefields are becoming increasingly remote, making medical evacuations more difficult,” Director of Pitt’s Center for Military Medicine Research and professor in Pitt’s Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine, Ron Poropatich, said in a statement.
“By fusing data captured from multiple sensors and applying machine learning, we are developing more predictive cardio-pulmonary resuscitation opportunities, which hopefully will conserve an injured soldier’s strength.
“Our goal with TRACIR is to treat and stabilise soldiers in the battlefield, even during periods of prolonged field care, when evacuation is not possible.”
The two universities are putting together a multi-disciplinary team of Pitt researchers and clinicians from emergency medicine, surgery, critical care and pulmonary fields. These will provide real-world trauma data and medical algorithms that can then be used by CMU’s roboticists and computer scientists in the creation of a “hard and soft robotic suit” into which an injured person can be placed.
Both teams acknowledge that it’s still early days in the process. Technology has not quite progressed enough to produce a robot that can safely and competently administer an IV needle, for example. But researchers are entering the project with an open mind, willing to take the steps to develop what is needed to overcome such obstacles.
“But we see this as being an autonomous or nearly autonomous system – a backpack containing an inflatable vest or perhaps a collapsed stretcher that you might toss toward a wounded soldier. It would then open up, inflate, position itself and begin stabilising the patient. Whatever human assistance it might need could be provided by someone without medical training.”