Remote Robotic-Assisted Surgery System Tested Aboard the International Space Station

Virtual Incision worked with maxon during the design of both the terrestrial version of MIRA and spaceMIRA.

Vi Robot

The spaceMIRA, developed by Virtual Incision and researchers at the University of Nebraska, is a compact, lightweight surgical robot sent to the ISS on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in January. From Lincoln, Nebraska, 250 miles below the ISS orbit, six surgeons took turns performing remote testing of the unit by manipulating and cutting a rubber band type material that simulated actual tissue.

spaceMIRA is a specially designed space-focused iteration of Virtual Incision’s MIRA, the world’s first miniaturized robotic-assisted surgery (miniRAS) system to be commercially available in the US. Similar to MIRA, its small and sleek design aims to offer the capabilities of robotic-assisted surgery (RAS) in a compact and convenient form factor that make it easier to transport and store the device. The modifications of spaceMIRA enabled pre-programmed and long-distance remote surgery capabilities for the experiment on the International Space Station (ISS).

Virtual Incision worked with maxon during the design of both the terrestrial version of MIRA and spaceMIRA. The robotic-assisted surgery (RAS) system incorporates the first-ever articulating camera. MIRA and spaceMIRA gain its strength in a small size by placing maxon’s motors inside the arms of the minibot. This structure allows the device to tackle a complex multi-quadrant procedure like colon resection across a broad range of patient types. The rigid, non-snake-like arms with internally mounted motors deliver the required strength to perform the surgeries while enabling triangulation of the camera and instruments.

The maxon components had to meet a number of demanding specifications due to the high speeds and torques required. Through their partnership with maxon, Virtual Incision was able to increase the efficiency of their system and maximize the deliverable output power for each joint. In addition to maxon’s complete line of motors and accessories, the company was able to create precision subassemblies specifically for MIRA. maxon’s team of engineers were helpful from conception and design to manufacturing of spaceMIRA’s subsystem. Virtual Incision developed all of the accompanying hardware, firmware, and software in-house to optimize miniaturization and device performance characteristics.

RAS systems offer multiple benefits to patients, including fewer site infections, less pain, less blood loss, smaller scars, shorter hospital stays, and quicker recoveries. The test procedure on the ISS supports the feasibility of long-distance surgeries. MIRA is easy to clean and sterilize between uses and does not need to be draped like larger main frame, boom-and-pedestal based units. Ultimately, MIRA is the smallest soft tissue robotic assisted surgery system on the market. It offers significant strength for its size and high output force and it is designed to enable quick setup in any operating room, whether in a large hospital, outpatient facility, or small rural surgical center.

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