Military looks to drones, augmented reality to deliver expert care in war zones

Researchers at Purdue University have developed a new system that lets young doctors in the field get support from experinced physicians via drones and AR glasses.
By Laura Lovett
01:31 pm

Photo credit: Edgar Rojas Muñoz/Purdue University

The military is now looking to augmented reality and drones as a new avenue for delivering expert care to patients in war zones. 

Researchers at Purdue University have developed a new AR system consisting of an headset and a drone, which aims to let experienced doctors give more junior doctors working in the field instructions. 

"The most critical challenge is to provide surgical expertise into the battlefield when it is most required," Juan Wachs, associate professor of Industrial Engineering at Purdue, who led the project team, said in a statement. "Even without having highly experienced medical leaders physically co-located in the field, with this technology we can help minimize the number of casualties while maximizing treatment at the point of injury."

The way it works is the provider treating patients in the field puts on an AR headset, which then connects to an experienced doctor’s screen in another location. The surgeon or specialist is able to see what the treating clinician is viewing. Then the specialist can give instructions to the medic or doctor in the field by placing augmented 3D images on top of the transparent screen the treating medic is looking through. 

Treating providers can also get on-screen feedback from the experienced physician. The system is designed so that the 3D images that the specialist places on the screen line up with the image seen on the field clinician’s screen. 

Meanwhile a drone is flying above the medic, giving the physician in the remote location an overview of what is happening in the field, including dangers and potential interferences. 

But the technology isn’t just for war zones, as the researchers noted it can be used in natural disaster zones or in rural areas where a more experienced doctor may not be readily available. 

Researchers said that this technology is aiming to replace the status quo where doctors in the field were instructed via telestrators, which are the freehand sketches over an image commonly seen in television sports playbacks. 

"There is an unmet need for technology that connects health care mentees in rural areas with experienced mentors," Edgar Rojas Muñoz, a doctoral student in industrial engineering who worked on the project, said in a statement. "The current use of a telestrator in these situations is inefficient because they require the mentee to focus on a separate screen, fail to show upcoming steps and give the mentor an incomplete picture of the ongoing procedure."

This week the research, which was supported by the US Department of Defense, was presented at the 2018 Military Health System Research Symposium. Next it will be tested at the Navy at one of its bases in Virginia, through practice drills. 

The US Military has shown an active interest in digital health. Just last week Philips Healthcare inked a deal to enter into a non-exclusive patent licensing agreement with US Air Force Research Laboratory for its Battlefield Airmen Trauma Distributed Observation Kit, for an undisclosed sum. The technology consisted of wearable sensors that can monitor multiple patients’ vitals signs remotely. 

Additionally, two weeks ago a deal was announced between Australian sleep company ResApp and the US military. The partners will join forces in developing a mobile application that will help determine the mission-readiness of American military personnel. 


The latest news in digital health delivered daily to your inbox.

Thank you for subscribing!
Error! Something went wrong!