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A.I., Robotics Studied for Military Trauma System

Medevac training in Afghanistan

Medical evacuation training exercise in Afghanistan in 2013 (

23 May 2019. Medical and robotics labs at two universities in Pittsburgh are developing a portable, autonomous trauma care device to stabilize wounded military service people in the field. The 4-year project to develop the system is funded by contracts from the U.S. Department of Defense totaling $7.2 million with researchers at University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.

The system called Trauma care in a rucksack, or Tracir, aims to stabilize wounded service people in remote areas where medical evacuation is difficult. Tracir plans to provide a stretcher-platform with a vest or suit to fit around the patient, while non-invasive sensors in the suit assess the individual’s medical condition. Data from the sensors will then use algorithms in control units to provide treatments to the patient or guide care by non-medical colleagues.

The goal of Tracir is to keep the patient stable until evacuation, called the golden hour, a term derived from a mandate by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in 2009 to medically evacuate critically injured service people in 60 minutes or less. A study published in 2016 shows the mandate reduced the time for providing professional care and improved survival outcomes. But because service people are now deployed in very remote regions, it may not always be possible to evacuate combat casualties and deliver them to professional medical care in 60 minutes.

The Tracir project combines researchers in emergency medicine at University of Pittsburgh with artificial intelligence and robotics engineers at Carnegie Mellon. The Pitt team, led by Ron Poropatich, director of the university’s military medical research center, and Michael Pinsky, a professor of critical care at Pitt, are receiving $3.7 million from DoD to study medical technologies for Tracir. A robotics and artificial intelligence research team led by Artur Dubrawski at Carnegie Mellon is receiving $3.5 million to create the autonomous systems in Tracir.

A resource expected to speed development of Tracir is a library of detailed physiologic data collected from more than 5,000 University of Pittsburgh Medical Center trauma patients. Pinsky and Dubrawski used those libraries to train algorithms for better detecting signs of deteriorating health in critical care patients before the damage is irreversible. Tracir expects to build on that experience with more sophisticated algorithms that provide autonomous care or directions to non-medical personnel. The project also calls for demonstrating the practicality of Tracir ‘s individual components.

Dubrawski notes in a joint university statement that Tracir is envisioned as, “an autonomous or nearly autonomous system,  a backpack containing an inflatable vest or perhaps a collapsed stretcher, that you might toss toward a wounded soldier. It would then open up, inflate, position itself and begin stabilizing the patient.” He adds, “Whatever human assistance it might need could be provided by someone without medical training.”

Poropatich notes Tracir also has potential civilian uses. “Tracir could be deployed by drone to hikers or mountain climbers injured in the wilderness,” says Poropatich. “It could be used by people in submarines or boats; it could give trauma care capabilities to rural health clinics or be used by aid workers responding to natural disasters. And, someday, it could even be used by astronauts on Mars.”

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