Skip to main content
Move the World.

Healthcare is in the midst of technological disruption as the advancement of robotic surgery is helping surgeons perform less invasive procedures, with the goal of improving recovery for patients.

A leader in surgical innovation, Intuitive specializes in developing and manufacturing surgical technology such as the da Vinci surgical system. The da Vinci surgical system is a state-of-the-art machine, which utilizes robotics to limit the invasiveness of operations, giving surgeons greater levels of precision, vision, and control during surgery.

In 2017, the significance of this technology hit home for one of the very people working to advance it. When Ted Rogers, Intuitive's vice president of vision engineering, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer, his surgeon relied on one of the products he designed to treat his condition.

The Evolution of Surgical Technology

Over time, surgical tools have evolved according to the needs of both surgeons and patients. Open procedures have long been performed because they allow surgeons to access anatomy with their hands and see the surgical site in 3-D.

However, open surgery can be cumbersome and difficult, and the large incisions these procedures require often translate to long recoveries for the patient. This brought forth laparoscopic surgery, a minimally invasive surgical technique intended to decrease the size of incisions and expedite recovery.

Laparoscopic surgery brought about its own difficulties. The tiny tools used to perform these surgeries were not as flexible for surgeons as their own hands.

Laparoscopic movements were also difficult to master as they're reversed, meaning that if a surgeon needs to move the tip of an instrument down, they have to move their hand up. When needing to move an instrument to the left, they have to move their hand to the right.

In training, the procedure might seem like a disorienting, mental labyrinth. Surgeons had to learn how to maneuver under these circumstances while viewing the surgical site on a 2-D screen.

A new vision emerged in the late 1990s: robotic-assisted surgery aimed to give dexterity and 3-D vision back to surgeons while maintaining a limited level of invasiveness using small instruments, approximately the size of your pinky finger.

Now, robotic-assisted surgeries, pioneered by Intuitive and made possible by its da Vinci surgical system, have allowed doctors to perform minimally invasive surgeries with only tiny incisions to fit small robotic tools into a patient's body. The tools are then controlled by a skilled surgeon at a nearby console.

Using surgical robots may enable faster recovery times than open surgery. For an "open" prostatectomy (surgical removal of the prostate gland), a patient would have previously needed to stay in the hospital for at least a few days. With robotic surgery, it may be possible for a patient to be back home within 24 hours.

The robotic instruments are controlled by a skilled surgeon at a nearby console.

Thinking of his own robotic surgery, Intuitive's Ted Rogers said, "I was fortunate enough to get an appointment with one of the top prostate surgeons on the west coast who happens to use our robotic systems."

"I have two daughters. They saw me go through my own surgery and how, for as major a surgery that was, how much of a non-event it was. I was in the hospital one morning and back the next."

The new opportunities that Intuitive's robotic tools afford surgeons are enhancing care and have sparked a new frontier for the future of surgery.

Imagining the Future of Robotic Surgery

Intuitive's advanced technology has gained mainstream acclaim and has even been featured on hit medical shows Grey's Anatomy and The Good Doctor. More importantly though, to date, Intuitive's robotic surgery systems have been used in over seven million surgeries.

Their next creation is the Ion endoluminal system, a robotic-assisted platform that enables minimally invasive lung biopsy. The system features an ultra-thin and maneuverable catheter that allows navigation far into the peripheral lung.

Ion allows pulmonologists access into areas of the lungs previously unnavigable with unprecedented stability for the necessary precision.

Intuitive's robotic surgery systems have been used in over 7 million surgeries.

Intuitive sees the progress their systems have made as only the beginning. Robotic surgery helped Ted Rogers get back to his life and now he looks forward to the future potential of his work.

"At Intuitive we talk a lot about improving patient outcomes. That concept can sometimes become abstract. My experience says this is no longer something that is abstract. It has given me more insight into what it's for and why it's important," Rogers says.

"I think we're still in the early stages of robotic-assisted surgery. We need to envision what the future might be by improving outcomes and helping surgeons treat their patients more quickly, more comfortably, with better precision, and with more information."

The future of the surgical field undoubtedly lies in robotics, and with Intuitive as a key player, it's exciting to imagine what the next phase of innovation will bring.

For more interesting news about the people and ideas that are changing our world, subscribe to Freethink.

Up Next

Dispatches
A New Brain Surgery Robot Can Work Inside an MRI
A New Brain Surgery Robot Can Work Inside an MRI
Dispatches
A New Brain Surgery Robot Can Work Inside an MRI
Metal robots and electric motors don't normally play well with giant magnets.

Metal robots and electric motors don't normally play well with giant magnets.

INTEL
Bringing Virtual Reality to Brain Surgery
Bringing Virtual Reality to Brain Surgery
Watch Now
INTEL
Bringing Virtual Reality to Brain Surgery
Virtual reality is helping surgeons and patients prepare for complicated, life-saving surgeries in ways never before possible.
Watch Now

Brain surgery is never easy -- for the doctor or the patient. Now, virtual reality is changing the game. Surgical Theater has created a revolutionary new tool, powered by Intel technology, that allows surgeons and patients to prepare for complicated new surgeries in ways never before possible. Surgeons have previously had to rely on 2D images and their imagination to visualize a surgery, but now they are able to use 3D, VR...

Superhuman
Patients are Finding Relief from New Essential Tremors Treatment using Focused...
These Doctors are Performing Brain Surgery ... Using Sound
Watch Now
Superhuman
Patients are Finding Relief from New Essential Tremors Treatment using Focused...
Bonnie D'Ettorre suffers from a nerve disorder causing uncontrollable shaking. Doctors at Ohio State are about to "burn it out" using a thousand beams of ultrasound.
Watch Now

Patients stricken with “essential tremors” have their lives upended by this nerve disorder which causes uncontrollable shaking. But doctors at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center are helping these patients find relief by “burning out” the problem-causing part of the brain with a high-intensity focused ultrasound. This miracle treatment significantly reduces tremors without the potential for complications posed...

Making Tumors Glow to Improve Cancer Surgery
Making Tumors Glow to Improve Cancer Surgery
Watch Now
Making Tumors Glow to Improve Cancer Surgery
This surgeon is improving surgery by lighting up cancer cells.
Watch Now

This surgeon, Dr. Sunil Singhal, is making tumors glow to help doctors ensure they have removed all of the cancer cells at the surgery site. Completely removing cancer tumors can be difficult, and if a small amount remains, the cancer can recur. Sunil, the director of the Thoracic Surgery Research Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, came up with the idea of using glowing tumors to advance cancer surgery after an...

Superhuman
How 3D-Printing Is Revolutionizing Heart Surgery
How 3D-Printing Is Revolutionizing Heart Surgery
Watch Now
Superhuman
How 3D-Printing Is Revolutionizing Heart Surgery
When a young boy was facing a complicated and dangerous heart operation, his doctors created an exact model of his heart to plan the surgery. And it probably saved his life.
Watch Now

Joseph had one of the most complicated heart conditions his doctors had ever seen. He faced a long and dangerous operation or a heart transplant. Without either, he wouldn't survive. Opting for surgery, Dr. Petros Anagnostopoulos at the American Family Children's Hospital prepped like few have ever done. He and his team 3D-printed a copy of Joseph's heart that they could explore and understand. It was another step forward...

Virology
Studying Pig Sh*t to Prevent the Next Pandemic
pig virus
Virology
Studying Pig Sh*t to Prevent the Next Pandemic
A pilot program in North Carolina offers one solution to scanning for a potential pig virus in our farm system - slurry testing.

A pilot program in North Carolina offers one solution to scanning for a potential pig virus in our farm system - slurry testing.

Artificial Intelligence
Smart Traffic Lights Ease Congestion on City Streets
smart Traffic Lights
Artificial Intelligence
Smart Traffic Lights Ease Congestion on City Streets
Smart traffic lights by startup NoTraffic use AI to improve the flow of traffic in cities, minimizing carbon emissions and delays for first responders.

Smart traffic lights by startup NoTraffic use AI to improve the flow of traffic in cities, minimizing carbon emissions and delays for first responders.

Cybersecurity
We’re One Step Closer to a Super-Secure Quantum Internet
We’re One Step Closer to a Super-Secure Quantum Internet
Cybersecurity
We’re One Step Closer to a Super-Secure Quantum Internet
Scientists have successfully entangled photons across a 52-mile-long quantum loop in Chicago, a major milestone along the path to a quantum Internet.

Scientists have successfully entangled photons across a 52-mile-long quantum loop in Chicago, a major milestone along the path to a quantum Internet.

Future of Health
Is the Future of Therapy… Virtual? A Look Into Virtual Reality Therapy
Is the Future of Therapy… Virtual? A Look Into Virtual Reality Therapy
Future of Health
Is the Future of Therapy… Virtual? A Look Into Virtual Reality Therapy
The immersive world of VR may have therapeutic benefits for people combating phobias, anxiety, and PTSD.
By Kaitlin Ugolik

The immersive world of VR may have therapeutic benefits for people combating phobias, anxiety, and PTSD.