NASA plans on sending a small surgical robot, MIRA (miniaturized in-vivo robotic assistant), to the International Space Station in 2024.
The agency awarded Virtual Incision, a startup based at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Nebraska Innovation Campus (NIC), $100,000, which has spent more than 15 years developing MIRA.
Shane Farritor and engineering graduate Rachael Wagner, intend on spending another year writing software, configuring the bot, and testing its use in space. MIRA is expected to go on board after nearly two decades since Virtual Incision’s founding in 2006.
“NASA has been a long-term supporter of this research and, as a culmination of that effort, our robot will have a chance to fly on the International Space Station”, Farritor says.
The robot will allow doctors to perform surgery in a less invasive manner and they will be able to do it remotely. MIRA has previously been directed to perform “surgery-like tasks” by retired NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson.
The robot will have to learn to work autonomously and will practice gestures that imitate surgery like cutting stretched rubber bands and pushing metal rings along a wire. Wagner believes the stimulations are very important because of all the data that will be collected from these tests.
MIRA is being programmed to conserve space station communications bandwidth and minimize astronauts’ time with the experiment.
According to Farritor, “The astronaut flips a switch, the process starts, and the robot does its work by itself. Two hours later, the astronaut switches it off and it’s done.”