Astronauts traveling to Mars or other distant destinations will face all kinds of medical problems, but rocket science isn’t surgery. And vice versa. A new augmented reality system could help astronauts take care of each other, overlaying computer graphics over a real patient to guide diagnoses or even surgery. It could even improve telemedicine in developing countries or remote spots.
For now, the Computer Assisted Medical Diagnosis and Surgery System, CAMDASS, only works with ultrasound, which is already available on the International Space Station. But the goal is to use it for any biomedical procedures future astronauts might need, according to the European Space Agency.
CAMDASS users don a 3-D display headcam, which includes an infrared camera to track the ultrasound device. Markers placed on a patient’s body denote sites of interest, and the system recognizes the patient and calibrates the display according to the CAMDASS wearer’s vision, an ESA news release explains. The headset displays little floating cue cards in the wearer’s field of vision, which match up with the markers on the real patient. Aligning the markers helps the user position the ultrasound probe, or whatever other device is needed. Then reference images show what the CAMDASS wearer should be seeing.
The ESA tested a prototype of this device with medical and nursing students, paramedics and Belgian Red Cross workers at Saint-Pierre University Hospital in Brussels. The CAMDASS testers could perform a “reasonably difficult” ultrasound procedure without any other help, the space agency said.
Augmented reality can be pretty fun to play with, but the practical applications of a real-life informational overlay are limitless. This is one reason why DARPA wants AR contact lenses that would require no bulky headgear. We’ve even seen an AR concept in which a would-be home mechanic can learn how to repair a car.
Similarly, this ESA device could be useful long before anyone takes it to Mars. It could help improve diagnostics in developing countries, for instance, or in remote locations like Antarctic research stations. Workers there have had to complete their fair share of self-diagnostics. The ESA now wants to conduct further tests.