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Robots, healthcare, and the untold story of da Vinci

by Jeffrey Clark on February 9, 2013

Kaiser Permanente recently hosted a demonstration day, highlighting those current and future technologies using robotics in healthcare.  From hospital courier bots delivering drugs and supplies to robotic limbs by Berkeley Bionics (now Ekso Bionics) to robotic arms by Kinova, there were a variety of applications on hand for demonstration.

Also reviewed was the original design from the da Vinci robotic surgery suite, now commercialized by Intuitive Surgical.  Most in the industry are familiar with Intuitive’s groundbreaking success in surgical robotics.  The untold story is that Intuitive Surgical did not invent the technology.

The research that eventually led to the development of the da Vinci Surgical System was performed in the late 1980s at non-profit research institute SRI International, funded by NIH.  The original product was driven by the US military which was interested in the system for its potential to allow surgeons to operate remotely on soldiers wounded on the battlefield.  Guidant had first crack at commercializing the system and turned down the opportunity.  John Freund, who had recently left Acuson, ultimately negotiated the tech transfer and first VC funding for the system, thus incorporating Intuitive Surgical.

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