The market for robotics has been booming in the last few years. In 2009, the field of service robotics brought in 2.3 billion dollars in revenue; in 2016, 17 billion! Medical robotics, which includes robotic surgery, makes up nearly half of this market. Estimated at $ 3.2 billion in 2012, its annual revenues are expected to grow 20% annually, reaching $19 billion by 2019. Not surprisingly, only 5 manufacturers dominate 75% of the robotic surgery market. This is a major challenge to future market development. But as technologies evolve and production costs decrease, there is endless potential for innovation in this futuristic field.
The dilemma: Man versus Robot?
While robots may never completely replace human hands, they have clear advantages for surgeons. Once they are appropriately trained on the robotic device, surgeons can perform procedures within 2 or 3 hours compared to 7 to 9 hours with traditional surgery. Robotic devices also provide an advantage that human hands simply don’t have: they don’t get tired and their “hands” don’t tremble. This translates into reduced errors and a more precise surgical procedure.
The obvious drawbacks of robotic devices are the costs. Surgical robots can cost upwards of a million dollars, meaning only a few lucky large institutions can afford them. Most small hospitals simply don’t have the budget to afford high-tech technology, or the patient base to justify such a costly expenditure.
The rise of robotics
Robotic surgery was born nearly three decades ago. The first robot-assisted surgical procedure occurred in 1985 when the PUMA 560 robotic surgical arm was used in a delicate neurosurgical biopsy. In 1990, AESOP became the first system approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its endoscopic surgical procedure. In 2000, the da Vinci Surgery System, from Intuitive Surgical, became the first robotic surgery system approved by the FDA for general laparoscopic surgery… and as for now, Da Vinci is the shining star of the robotic surgery market.
The robotic invasion
As new applications are developed, robots are rapidly invading the surgical suite. In 2000, there were only 15 devices in the United States: today, there are over 3500 robots all around the globe, with 104 of them located in France!
“Robotic medical devices are a huge asset for hospitals.” – Pf Hubert
By far, gynecology and urology are the most popular clinical applications for robotic surgery right now. In the United States alone, surgical robots have been performing minimally invasive hysterectomies for years. For certain patients, this formerly debilitating procedure can be done through three or four small incisions in the abdomen. Using the the robot’s nimble “arms” and its 3D/HD monitor, the surgeon can orchestrate the entire procedure from a computer panel, ultimately dissecting and removing the uterus (as well as fallopian tubes and ovaries, if necessary) through the small incisions.
In the field of urology, robots are mainly being used to perform laparoscopic assisted nephrectomy, prostatectomy, and cystectomy, with the advantage of a more comprehensive resection that spares delicate nerve and muscle tissue. In the case of cystectomy to treat bladder cancer, robotic assisted surgery has been praised for its ability to minimize the amount of cancerous tissue that is left behind. As the field of minimally invasive surgery grows, the clinical applications will grow as well. Other robotic applications are currently under development for surgery of the digestive tract, thoracic cavity (for lobectomy) and oropharyngeal tract (for removal of tongue cancer).
“Training is vital for surgeons who want to master robotic devices.” – Pf Hubert
Another trend in robotics? To go smaller! Scientists are designing smaller and superior micro-robots (less than 1 mm) or nano-robots (less than 1 micrometer) specifically for minimally invasive surgery. Due to their small size, they are potentially very cheap and could be used in large numbers (known as “swarm robotics”) to explore environments that are too small or too dangerous for people or larger robots. In the near future, we may see nanorobots roaming the digestive tract taking pictures or, why not, scraping the plaque from arteries!
Man vs. Robot: How to master robotic surgery?
Robots are only as intelligent as their users. In order to be 100% effective, surgeons must learn how to correctly manipulate robotic medical devices so they become like a natural extension of their own hands. To reach this level of expertise, surgeons must train repetitively with the device so they feel comfortable and confident using. Register with Invivox so you have instant access to experts in robotic surgery. Whether robotic surgery is in your future, or you plan to acquire one now, it’s vital to be prepared. Robots are no longer simply a vision of science fiction books and movies.