NASA training Robonaut to perform surgery

Robonaut 2, NASA's humanoid robot currently inhabiting the International Space Station, hasn't done much exciting work up there since its arrival three years ago.

But according to a doctor at Houston Methodist Hospital who has been training the robot on telemedicine, the plan is to equip NASA's space-age machine to eventually perform surgery.

"The idea is for him to be the best medic, nurse and physician," Dr. Zsolt Garami told the BBC. "Our plan is to use Robonaut as a telemedicine doctor in remote areas." That would include space.

Robonaut 2, a collaboration between NASA, General Motors and Oceaneering Space Systems engineers, arrived at the International Space Station in 2011 on space shuttle Discovery as part of the STS-133 mission.

To this point, Robonaut's work on the ISS has been limited to such mundane tasks as "monitoring air flow from vents" and catching floating rolls of duct tape.

But Garami told the BBC that one of NASA's Robonauts is being groomed on Earth to "perform intricate medical operations like endovascular surgery."

Robonauts are controlled by humans at NASA's Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. And one of the problems has been the lag time between command and response — which can be a couple of seconds or more, depending on the signal.

According to the BBC, NASA officials are toying with the idea of having astronauts control Robonaut from space, side by side, thereby eliminating the lag.

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