Fox News recently reported about the Canadian Space Agency’s contributions to medicine with Canadarm. Canadarm 2 is a robotic and remote controlled arm mounted on the International Space Station (ISS). The original Canadarm was mounted on the space shuttle. Both robotic arms were designed to do work outside in space, while astronauts controlled the arms in the relative safety of the spacecraft.
A version of the robotic arm, called Kidsarm (pictured above), is migrating down to Earth to help doctors and surgeons sew patients up. Why are the doctors interested in this technology? After all, the operating room doesn’t quite contain the same hostile environment of space. The biggest reason mentioned is that a robot arm can do very fine work that a doctor’s hands would have difficulty with. There’s also the fact that Kidsarm doesn’t get tired, while an overworked surgeon is only human. A robotic arm also is very steady, a trait I would also prefer in my surgeons. The Kidsarm is also quicker with suturing blood vessels–nearly 10x faster.
The Kidsarm program has been in development since 2010. However, since it is based off of the Canadarm technology, one could argue the development has been going on a bit longer. The Kidsarm is intended to be more than a robotic arm, though. According to this surgical robotics site, the Kidsarm uses stereo-imaging from its cameras to create models in cyberspace for planning and teaching. It’s also able to combine images from multiple medical tools, such as images from MRIs and ultrasounds, to make a more comprehensive and accurate 3-D image for doctors to help navigate the Kidsarm through.
Would Kidsarm have been made without the baby steps taken by the spaceworking Canadarm? Probably, but it might not have debuted as quickly. In the medical world where saving time can save lives, that would’ve been a terrible delay.