If you think of robots in the military, your mind may conjure dystopian images of science-fiction battlefields with AI-powered machines trading laser fire. But in a much more humane application, UK researchers are developing a potentially lifesaving medical system equivalent to a VR triage video call.

University of Sheffield researchers are working on a telepresence system to treat military personnel during combat. The plan is for offsite medics to don virtual reality headsets and control a battlefield robot. The machine can take the patient’s vitals with the same technology used in robotic surgery.

Currently, injured combatants often have to see medical technicians with limited on-hand resources. These paramedics often do their jobs at significant personal risk (and, if contagious diseases and contamination are factors, a risk to others as well). If the patient needs further care, moving them to a safe location with proper resources could take hours or days.

The planned telepresence system would allow medical technicians to work offsite, using the robot to gather data like the patient’s temperature or blood pressure. For example, the machines could take mouth swabs and draw blood samples from the patient’s arm. In addition, it could send photos and videos of injuries to the offsite medical workers, allowing them to assess and perhaps even treat the patient remotely.

Project co-lead Sanja Dogramadzi, a professor at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering, sees the initiative as a lifesaving measure. “Developing a remotely-operated robotic system would significantly improve safety by reducing the amount of danger military personnel are exposed to on the frontline. Our platform uses the latest technology and would integrate it in a way that hasn’t been done before.”