The medical probe that gives astronauts an inside view
6 February 2012
Medical emergencies can just as easily happen in space as on the ground. However, treatment of the casualties can be a major headache for astronauts who are far from the nearest hospital. Fortunately, help may soon be at hand, thanks to CAMDASS.
Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) spend up to 6 months in space. Such long periods of weightlessness cause side effects, such as loss of muscle and decrease in bone density. Accidents or illnesses may also occur. There is usually no doctor on board, although it is possible to get advice from a medical expert on the ground.
Now a new piece of equipment, known as CAMDASS (which is short for Computer Assisted Medical Diagnosis and Surgery System), is being developed to help the crew. CAMDASS uses a head-mounted display which provides 3-D stereo vision. It works by precisely combining computer-generated graphics with the operator’s view of the patient.
At present, CAMDASS is fitted with an ultrasound probe, which can look inside the patient. Ultrasound was chosen because it is an effective way of diagnosing an internal medical problem and the ISS already carries an ultrasound device. The probe is tracked by using an infrared camera and markers placed on the skin of the casualty. To make it as easy as possible to use, a voice activation system is used, instead of a mouse or keyboard.
The prototype has already been tested at a university in Belgium. People who had never used an ultrasound device or a head-mounted display took only 15-20 minutes to get used to the system. After this, they were able to operate it on their own. The experts in Belgium and Germany who created CAMDASS believe that crews may soon be able to work with similar technology on long space journeys.