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It could one day answer the prayers of astronauts who need surgery in deep space. The miniature surgeon slides into the body through an incision in the belly button. Once inside the abdominal cavity – which has been filled with inert gas to make room for it to work – the robot can remove an ailing appendix, cut pieces from a diseased colon or perforate a gastric ulcer.

The fist-sized robot, a product of Virtual Incision in Lincoln, Nebraska, will have its first zero-gravity test – in an aircraft flying in parabolic arcs – in the next few months. While aloft, the surgery bot will perform a set of exercises to demonstrate its dexterity, such as manipulating rubber bands and other inanimate objects.

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