Remote Robotic System to Help Medics Assess Injured Soldiers

Barb Ruppert

With a death rate for U.S. Army medics substantially higher than that of regular infantry members, the Army needed a solution to ensure that medics could assess an injured Soldier without leaving cover.

A robotic system that could enable medics to determine an injured Soldier’s status remotely could save many lives—including not only the medic’s, but the life of the Soldier whose injury may require special transport techniques or who must be treated immediately to prevent death on the battlefield.

For the past three years, scientists at PERL Research, Huntsville, AL, have been developing such a system in conjunction with the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC) of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (MRMC). Research has focused on robotic stand-off thermal imaging sensors for vital signs and hemorrhage. The team displayed the technology at the 27th Army Science Conference in November 2010.

“We are developing a revolutionary technology to assess an injured Soldier remotely without having to actually touch him or her,” said Paul Cox, PERL Research Senior Scientist. “This sensing technology will be integrated onto a robot, thereby allowing the medic to stay behind cover in situations when the area is not secured or there are possibly explosive devices. There are currently no other technologies that can perform this type of remote, non-contact patient assessment.”

HOW IT WORKS
The automated remote triage system integrates intelligent software and sensors to assist in a medic’s remote assessment. The system uses a thermographic (temperature-sensing) camera to measure the wounded Soldier’s heart rate, respiration rate, and skin temperature. Also included are a spinal injury sensor and a hand-held triage computer to determine severity of injury based on the person’s vital signs. The system integrates the medic’s assessment of the situation (via video monitoring and two-way audio interaction) with the automated processing of the sensor data to determine the injured Soldier’s status.

According to Cox, the system could be used in the field less than two years from now for standard triage parameters such as breathing, circulation, exposure, and injury severity. “More research is needed for more detailed patient assessment such as detecting internal hemorrhaging,” he added.

Internal bleeding is the leading cause of death on the battlefield and is very difficult to detect, especially in the early stages. PERL has completed initial testing with Dr. William Cooke of the University of Texas at San Antonio College of Education and Human Development to begin correlating data from its thermographic camera with stroke volume, the amount of blood pumped with each heartbeat. Stroke volume is a strong indicator of hemorrhage but cannot be measured in the field practically using current devices.

Cooke simulates battlefield blood loss in a laboratory setting by incorporating a negative pressure chamber, similar to that used to study astronauts, which tricks the heart and brain into thinking the body is bleeding.

“Our preliminary laboratory results are very exciting,” Cooke said. “Regardless of whether the simulated hemorrhage is slow, moderate, or fast, analysis of thermographic images of the forehead demonstrates tight correlations with stroke volume. For field applications, we envision the capability to gauge magnitudes of blood loss experienced by wounded Soldiers, to assist with decision support and triage prioritization.”

To learn more about TATRC’s medical robotics program, visit http://www.tatrc.org/robotics. A video demonstrating the robotic triage technology is available at http://www.perlresearch.com/robottriage.


  • BARB RUPPERT is a science and technology writer for MRMC’s TATRC. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Virginia and an M.A. in education from Virginia Tech.