Press Release

SRI International’s M7 Robot to Perform First-Ever Surgical Demonstration in Zero-Gravity Flight

By SpaceRef Editor
September 25, 2007
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First Telesurgery Experiment to be Conducted in Weightless Environment

SRI International, an independent nonprofit research and development organization, today announced that it will conduct the first-ever robotic surgery demonstration in a simulated zero-gravity environment. SRI is collaborating with researchers and surgeons from the University of Cincinnati to evaluate the benefits of robotic surgery on air and space flights.

The extreme environment experiments will be performed aboard a NASA C-9 aircraft on September 25 – 28. Through parabolic flights, the aircraft will simulate the microgravity of space and variable gravity of military critical care air transport. During the flight week, four microgravity flights will be completed, with each flight consisting of 40 parabolas. The microgravity period will last approximately 18 to 25 seconds per parabola. The missions will be flown in restricted air space over the Gulf of Mexico, at altitudes from 20,000 to 34,000 feet.

SRI-developed software will help the robot compensate for errors in movement that can occur in moments of turbulence and transition in gravity. A major component of the experiment is to compare manual surgical tasks conducted by a surgeon and robotic surgery. Both the human surgeon and the robot will be tasked with making incisions on a tissue model and suturing a wound or incision. Post-flight evaluations will compare the precision and speed of procedures performed by hand versus those performed by robot.

“SRI is at the forefront of medical robotics technology that can benefit humans in dynamic, moving environments,” said Thomas Low, director of SRI’s Medical Devices and Robotics program. “In previous experiments, SRI successfully demonstrated how robots can be manipulated remotely and set-up with minimal training. We are now extending that technology to movement and weightlessness, critical elements of any space travel program.”

Beyond space, telerobotic capabilities could be useful for remote battlefield surgery, and care during patient evacuation and transport. The technology may someday allow time-critical procedures requiring specialized skills to be performed in a moving vehicle, reducing the time between injury and treatment for victims of motor vehicle accidents or natural disasters.

Earlier this year, in collaboration with the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 12 undersea mission, SRI presented the first demonstration of an image-guided remote surgery. In the 2006 NEEMO 9 mission, SRI successfully demonstrated the first telerobotic surgery where a robotic surgical interface was controlled 1,500 miles away from a surgical robot that performed several tasks, including vascular suturing.

SRI pioneered telepresence surgery during the 1980s with the development of a telerobotic system that offers a surgeon the full sensory experience of conventional hands-on surgical procedures while being minimally invasive to the patient. In 1995, SRI spun off Intuitive Surgical Inc. (NASDAQ: ISRG) to bring that breakthrough technology to market. Today, Intuitive Surgical is the global leader in the rapidly emerging field of robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgery.

About SRI International

Silicon Valley-based SRI International ( is one of the world’s leading independent research and technology development organizations. Founded as Stanford Research Institute in 1946, SRI has been meeting the strategic needs of clients for more than 60 years. The nonprofit research institute performs client-sponsored research and development for government agencies, commercial businesses, and private foundations. In addition to conducting contract R&D, SRI licenses its technologies, forms strategic partnerships, and creates spin-off companies.


SRI International
Ellie Javadi, 650-859-4874
[email protected]
Dina Basin, 650-859-3845
[email protected]

SpaceRef staff editor.