Why 'surgeon' robots are set to revolutionise healthcare

The robotically-assisted surgical (RAS) devices have evolved from semi-autonomous equipments such as the da Vinci robotic surgical system, which simulated the motion of the surgeon's wrist till 7 degrees mimicking the human arm to the fully automatic devices such as the Flex robotic system.


Albert Einstein said, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” The robotically-assisted medical devices have not only converted ‘virtuality’ into ‘reality’ but also created a new dimension in the field of healthcare. Speaking of the very first intervention, Arthrobot, a bone mountable hip arthroplasty surgery robot, the advancements in medical robotics have continued to improve the quality of surgical procedures tremendously.

The robotically-assisted surgical (RAS) devices have evolved from semi-autonomous equipments such as the da Vinci robotic surgical system, which simulated the motion of the surgeon's wrist till 7 degrees mimicking the human arm to the fully automatic devices such as the Flex robotic system i.e., the snake-arm robot which has enabled the professionals to perform minimally-invasive procedures with precision. The initial concerns of the surgeons when performing minimally invasive procedures relating to hand-eye coordination have been overcome by the use of surgical robotics.

Currently, procedures such as knee and hip replacements, eye surgery, cardiac surgery and hair transplant surgery involve the use of medical robotics. The scope of robotic surgery depends on reliability, patient safety, clinical outcomes and cost. Companies such as Intuitive Surgical, Verb Surgical, Medrobotics, Virtual Incision, Think Surgical and Medtech are contributing significantly to robotic medical technology. The RAS devices market is driven by technical advancements and success rates of future RAS devices such as SPORT, a versatile single incision advanced robotic surgical system, and Squishy surgical robots aimed at patients’ safety.  Intuitive Surgical, which introduced da Vinci robotic surgical system, is the industry leader in robotic-assisted surgery. This company recorded revenues of $2.1bn for 2014, which grew by approximately 12% to $2.4bn in 2015.

Another emerging scope of RAS devices is in war zone and aeronautical use. Remote robot-assisted devices such as Trauma pods proposed by the US army are an initiation towards telesurgery. The invention of STAR, a robot that performed semi-autonomous surgical procedures in pre-clinical studies, using animal models, with its own vision marked a step towards artificial intelligence in the field of robotic surgery.

Although the concept of surgical robotics is appealing and extraordinary, there are challenges to overcome. The collaboration of industry experts and clinicians is not easy to establish. Architectural malfunctions, system failure and security issues remain the concerns to be addressed. The resistance of skilled surgeons practicing traditional methods adapting to latest technology might hamper the wider adoption of robotic surgery. The equation between cost and quality in terms of efficiency of computer-assisted medical devices is at odds since the technology demands heavy investments and intensive manpower.

The field of RAS devices is a vast ocean that needs to be explored extensively. The thought of a “robo surgeon” is possible with scientific innovations requiring thought process that can give rise to practical applications, which are affordable, reliable and safe.