September 10, 2020   |   Updated: September 9, 2020

It’s important that during a space mission astronauts have reliable and anti-flammable lithium-ion batteries to assist them in maintaining spacecraft, their spacesuits and other technologies that keep the crew safe in high-stakes situations. Now, technologists are beginning to utilize these same batteries on Earth, too. 

Hospitals are most likely where you’ll encounter a battery that was first developed for out-of-this-world use. It’s important that during power outages, technologies such as robotic arms used in surgeries continue to operate without missing a beat.

“During robotic surgery, it’s a problem when you have a power outage because the instruments are already inside the patient and they are doing the operation,” says IEEE member Mauricio Salles. “If they had a power outage exactly in that moment, that could be very dangerous because it could cut an unintended organ. That’s why it’s very important to have an option of higher reliability to the power system.” 

This power system, which was used to operate robots remotely in space, can be used in hospitals in order to provide reliability to robotic surgeries that, in Brazil, have been performed for almost 20 years. These surgeries were primarily used in the treatment of heart diseases and chest, gastric system, urological and reproductive system procedures.

High-density energy storage systems used in space exploration look like a small battery, only fatter and resemble today’s lithium-ion batteries. But Salles assures us that technologists are capable of developing these specialized batteries into any space or size needed to accomplish the mission.

“When you’re thinking about a solid-state battery that’s also going to be developed for space missions, they can have different forms and fit in exactly the size that you need with exactly the amount of energy that you need,” says Salles.

As technology evolves, Salles and other IEEE power and energy society members are hopeful that these batteries provide new opportunities to keep people safe in whatever application — in space or on Earth. 

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