British medical company CMR Surgical has launched a robotic arm designed to be remotely controlled and to perform minimally invasive operations.
The Versius robot mimics the movements of the human arm and is controlled remotely by combining immersive, 3D high-definition vision with an ergonomic control console. CMR Surgical claims the new system will “reduce stress and fatigue, offering the potential to extend the careers of surgeons”.
Versius is expected to be introduced in NHS hospitals next year, where it will rival Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci system.
Despite having led the market since its launch in 2000, the da Vinci system (which is working in more than 70 hospitals across the UK) isn’t perfect. Although it is credited with making minimally invasive procedures more accessible, some research has concluded that it doesn’t significantly improve patient outcomes or costs.
The next generation of surgical robots
CMR Surgical believes its alternative is cheaper, more portable, and more versatile.
In part that’s because it’s smaller than its established competitor. “Versius is easy to move between operating rooms and even hospitals, quick to set up, and gives the surgical team easy access to the patient at all times,” according to a statement from CMR Surgical.
The price point is also a huge factor.
Remotely controlled robotic arms come with myriad benefits. The most significant is improved accessibility to minimally invasive surgical procedures, which reduce the trauma of operations and cut recovery times. Plus, any tool that supports surgeons in a tiring operating theatre is welcome.
But they don’t come cheap – a factor that CMR Surgical argues goes some way to explaining why robotic tools are not yet performing the majority of available surgical procedures.
CMR Surgical CEO, Martin Frost, said: “We believe Versius represents a paradigm shift in surgery. The ground-breaking design, coupled with genuine affordability, means that patients everywhere have the potential to benefit from the advantages of minimal access surgery.
“Versius is a great example of British innovation and its launch represents a pivotal moment in the next chapter of surgery and patient care.”
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Robotic arms, like the established da Vinci and its new competitor from Cambridge-based CMR, lighten the load on surgeons and make minimally invasive procedures more commonplace.
But for a true revolution in the way that procedures are performed, there arguably needs to be a cognitive element to augmented surgery: one that cuts out mistakes, speeds up procedures, and goes beyond supporting human motor skills.
Which is where Google could enter the picture. The search giant partnered with Johnson & Johnson in 2015 to form Verb Surgical, with a view to replacing the popular da Vinci system with something significantly smarter.
Verb Surgical is working on a digital surgery platform that will combine robotics and advanced instrumentation with enhanced visualisation, connectivity, and machine learning.
Launch is expected in 2020, so medical institutions reluctant to part with limited funds may wait to see exactly what Verb will bring to the market before backing da Vinci’s competitors in the short term.