In space, nothing is as easy as it is on Earth, and an ill astronaut could pose a major problem to any space mission. For advanced diagnostis purposes, the International Space Station already carries an ultrasound device, but astronauts are generally not trained ultrasound operators. Also, a connection to ground-based expert help may involve unwieldy communication delays, so it is no surprise space agencies are looking into ways to make future space travellers more self-sufficient.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is working on an augmented reality system that will help astronauts better diagnose medical problems in space. The Computer Assisted Medical Diagnosis and Surgery System, CAMDASS as it is strangely called, is a wearable augmented reality system with a head-mounted display that merges actual and virtual reality by precisely combining computer-generated graphics with the wearer’s view.
The device, currently in the prototype stage, is initially focused on ultrasound as this is a very versatile diagnostic tool and already available in the International Space Station, but could be used with other modalities as well. The position of the ultrasound probe is tracked with an infrared camera and markers are applied to the patient. The patient’s body is coupled to a virtual reference body, and images are displayed on top of the patient within the head-mounted display, giving users an indication of what they should be seeing and providing guidance through the process.
The prototype was successfully tested at Saint-Pierre University Hospital in Brussels, Belgium, with untrained users able to perform a reasonably difficult procedure without the help of others. As a result of the tests the developers are now working on reducing the weight of the head-mounted display as well as the overall bulkiness of the prototype. Apart from helping astronauts, the system could also be used as part of a telemedicine system to provide remote medical assistance or as a self-sufficient tool for emergency responders.