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A poorly rendered digital image of the new ESA CAMDASS system.

An in-development technology from the European Space Agency called the Computer Assisted Medical Diagnosis and Surgery System (CAMDASS) will help future astronauts perform emergency medical procedures when in the deepest throes of space, using augmented reality.

PhysOrg reports today on the development of the ultrasound-driven CAMDASS system, which uses augmented reality in the form of a computer-guided visual helmet, joining hand-held sensors to guided medical procedure astronauts would be otherwise incapable of performing. Augmented reality refers to the melding of virtual reality with real-time images.

Arnaud Runge, a biomedical engineer working with ESA explained the CAMDASS: Although medical expertise will be available among the crew to some extent, astronauts cannot be trained and expected to maintain skills on all the medical procedures that might be needed.

Augmented reality generally has had few real-world practical applications as of yet, beyond hand-held visual effects and online shopping, but prospects are high. In this case, the technology will precisely meld actual reality with virtual reality to guide users through complex medical procedures. The implied distance of future shuttle missions is so great that communication and guidance with earth on such matters would take far too long or simply be impossible.

Nathan Hope, a medical student currently studying at the University of Agder Kristiansand, Norway, is skeptical about the potential of the device. In my opinion, i think it would be about as useful as a webMD app on an iPhone to someone who doesn't actually have legitimate health training and is floating around in outer space, he told the International Business Times by instant message. It takes four years just to be certified to 'know wtf you are doing' on an x-ray machine, which is pretty simple stuff compared to ultrasound imaging, he continued.

Although hope and speculation are high for such technologies, at this moment, the International Business Times has yet to find a medical use for augmented reality users who have little-to-no medical training. Doctors use three-dimensional image mapping in neurological surgery, particularly when performing brain surgeries. About.com writes that concern still exists surrounding the movement of tissue during surgery, which effects the precision and accuracy of such image mapping. The hope is something more useful in practice than this:

According to PhysOrg, the project is funded by ESA's Basic Technology Research Programme, the prototype was developed for the Agency by a consortium led by Space Applications Services NV in Belgium with support from the Technical University of Munich and the DKFZ German Cancer Research Centre.