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Robot dog improves SOF medical practices

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CAMP LEJEUNE, NC — Multi-purpose canine handlers with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, used a robotic canine training dummy for the first time, during hands-on medical training at Stone Bay on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. 

The simulator, one of two prototypes being developed between U.S. Special Operations Command and industry partners, challenged handlers and medical staff with the wide range of scenarios available through its realistic reactions to injuries and treatments. 

The development of this new “robot dog” came from SOCOM’s desire to improve the current medical training capabilities of MPC handlers. Currently, the special operations forces community uses stuffed dogs, called critical-care jerry dogs, to train and refine medical techniques and procedures.

The static nature of the jerry dogs limit the instructors’ ability to evaluate MPC handlers’ and medical team members’ capabilities to properly perform medical aid on canines. The service members also heavily rely on force veterinarians to provide scenarios and injury descriptions, which limits training opportunities to garrison training environments due to unavailability of veterinarians in a deployed environment. 

“Our handlers are the first line of aid for their dogs when deployed, secondary to special amphibious reconnaissance corpsmen,” said a MARSOC East force veterinarian. “They are the first responders, so they need to know how to treat any injury that happens on the battlefield.”

SOCOM’s desire to provide better training and increased capabilities to deploying teams, kick-started the development of this new “robot dog.” The prototype is designed to look like a Belgian Malinois, one of the commonly used breeds in the military canine force. All of the joints on the mannequin move like a real dog’s, unlike a jerry dog where there is no movement. Limbs can also be changed out, to simulate different injuries depending on the training scenario’s objectives.

Some possible injuries include lacerations on paws and legs, as well as fractures. Supervising veterinarians can have injuries release simulated blood, change respiration or pulse rate and quality, as well as have the mannequin produce barking or whining noises, all of which improve the realism of the training.

MPC handlers must rely on their own knowledge and senses to determine what injuries are present. Handlers must go through a step-by-step process to determine how to best administer aid to their canines in order to stabilize them and get them to a veterinarian.

“[Having this capability during training] helps you not second guess yourself when deployed,” said a MARSOC MPC handler. “You’re able to realize that you’ve used these steps before in training, and they worked in training, so they will work when needed. As long as you continue with the steps and do everything properly, you’ll be successful and save your dog.”

With the additional capabilities provided from the prototype, handlers can practice a wider range of scenarios including performing a tracheotomy or intubation, full CPR with reactive responses, administer IVs, and practice counteracting evisceration injuries. When proper medical aid is administered, handlers can see vitals stabilize in moments and verify they are applying aid properly. All of these training advancements allow for a more thorough and advanced training for handlers to help aid their furry partners on the battlefield.

“[The training] helps familiarize us with the process and builds self-confidence that will prove useful on the battlefield,” said a MARSOC MPC handler. “When it comes to needing it on the battlefield, having that muscle memory is important when you’re in the middle of the action.”

Production for this new prototype is planned to start in March 2018, after feedback from the final training iterations has been reviewed. Once fielded, the training device will be made available across the military canine force, potentially as early as April 2018. 

“It’s a phenomenal (training tool),” said a MARSOC East force veterinarian. “We’re really looking forward to when it’s available for full use.”