Researchers working on new technology to save lives on battlefield

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — Researchers at Purdue University are collaborating on a project to develop a new kind of technology aimed at saving lives. It’s called a System for Telementoring with Augmented Reality, or STAR.

Computer science student Dan Andersen said it could help surgeons on the battlefield.

“A lot of combat medics have a good amount of training. But maybe they haven’t been refreshed recently on how to do a particular kind of operation, or they haven’t been trained hands-on for certain kinds of trauma injuries,” said Andersen.

So Andersen and a handful of other students and professors who specialize in computer science, industrial engineering or mechanical engineering are working on a system to help.

“You have this tablet here in front of my face. And the trainee would be able to work while receiving instruction,” said Andersen as he showed the system they’ve developed.

That assistance can come from an expert surgeon or “mentor” anywhere else in the world.

“We want to create the illusion that the surgeon is looking through a window at the patient, and he can actually see the anatomy,” said associate professor Juan Wachs, who is also the principal researcher.

Using tablet screens, the mentor surgeon can watch in real time and see exactly what the trainee surgeon is doing. The expert surgeon can draw lines and other notations that the trainee can also see on his or her own tablet while performing the operation — eliminating the need to shift focus away from the procedure.

“This expert can give instruction about, ‘OK, you should do an incision here, or…you should spread this, watch out for this nerve,’ things like that,” said Andersen. “That kind of guidance to give that sense the mentor is actually there.”

The project, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, involves a simulated “Role 2” military medical facility in the lab. Researchers said that’s similar to a forward surgical team with limited resources.

Students call it an important project with a real impact.

“The repercussions of what we’re doing here is not just, ‘Yeah, I’m doing research’ or ‘Yeah, I’m gonna get a degree out of it.’ It’s something that is actually meaning something that could be applied to real life and real applications and has the potential to save lives,” said Maru Cabrera, a student in mechanical engineering.

The project is still about two years away from finished. Wachs said it can also be used for surgeons in rural areas.

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