The future of battlefield medicine


If the people in this designated war room are an orchestra, Dr. Alex Bordetsky is the conductor. Bordetsky is leading a team from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey to explore the future of battlefield medicine; how to quickly treat an injured solider in what may be a hostile or remote location.

"What we are trying to get is instantaneous accurate information from the point of injury all the way back to definitive care," said US Air Force Maj. Charles Brisbois.

ABC7 was on the ground at Camp Roberts during a rare exercise to test various technologies designed to save lives in a combat environment. The collaboration involves the military, private companies, research institutions and a hospital.

"We have just enough structure to be safe, secure and legal and we want all the rest of the walls down and we want people communicating," explained NPS tactical exercise director Raymond Buettner.

The operation relies on a secure network to relay information, some of it coming from an electronic tag carried by the solider. There's also video cameras mounted on unmanned vehicles flying in the air, as well as those on the ground.

"Inside this robot is a computer which has several network links, one of them is WiFi we use now," said NPS exercise participant Eugene Bourakov.

The ground robot is able to detect and navigate its way to an injured solider without any input from military command.

"The relatively intelligent autonomous program guides robot to the new position, so it's a new world," said Bordetsky.

The ideal scenario is that the robot vehicle would be then be able to take the injured solider to a safer location. In any military operation, precision is critical and challenging, which is why the testing is extensive.

"We're not only tolerant of failure, we want things to fail," said Buettner. "We want you to push it to the edge. We want to learn where the limits are."

The Naval Postgraduate School is going beyond what many can even imagine and delving into the realm of science fiction. One of the futurist battlefield tools the military is testing is a nano patch that is either attached to the skin or is sown into the fabric of an advanced uniform. MIT has come up with a prototype that is being used in current exercises. The high-tech fabric is able to relay a soldier's vital signs.

In one example, a team at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital is able to instantaneously monitor such things as breathing, heart rate and pulse.

"Through these remote networks we can help direct them to the right patient that's injured because a lot of times there are multiple casualties and we can help with that triage process," said Jeff Adams, Ph.D. of Salinas Valley Memorial.

Taken to its highest level, the advanced solider uniform would even be able to administer drugs to help with blood clotting, pain or infection. The man at the helm of the battlefield medicine project says the technology shows promise.

"We were able to see the tiny flow of liquid going into it as a proof of concept that the tiny device works," said Bordetsky.

In an era when robotic surgery is now a reality, the concept of a remote medic for troops is moving closer to deployment.

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