My Doctor Is a Robot! The da Vinci Surgical System


January 13, 2017

While our attention usually gravitates toward flashy new pieces of technology like virtual reality, parrot drones, and smart home systems, medical technology is just as astounding with immediate and life-changing results for everyone. Considering a century ago our first antibiotic (penicillin) had yet to be discovered and epidemics of polio still plagued the nation, medical technology has impacted our world just as much as computer systems have.

Today, medical technology truly operates in the realm of science fiction with once impossible procedures like genetic modification, cloning, nanobots (currently in development), and even robotics now a reality. In 2012, over 200,000 surgeries were completed successfully using the latest in robotic medical technology known as the da Vinci surgical system. It’s an amazing piece of technology that went viral a few years ago for perfectly stitching up a grape.

Robotic, but Not a Robot

Both the viral video and the name, da Vinci Robotic Surgical System, are misleading. While it may appear as though the device is controlled by some sophisticated form of artificial intelligence, the opposite is true. Each of the over 3,000 da Vincis in use today are controlled by a human being. The da Vinci is less a robot and more of a robotic tool, however, that doesn’t diminish its effectiveness or ingenuity.

Minimally Invasive Surgery from da Vinci

The da Vinci enables unprecedented control over the motor functions needed for surgery. It includes a magnified 3D HD vision system to display a clear picture of what it sees and performs the surgery with small “wristed” instruments. Through these wrist joints, the instruments are able to bend and rotate at angles impossible for the human hand to replicate.

Another cool feature of the da Vinci is its Firefly technology. The 3D HD camera mounted in the da Vinci can display multiple visual modes. From near-infrared, visible light, and standard imaging, the surgeon can view the operating area with a wider range of options. Plus, a dye can be injected that will change any tissue with blood flow to a bright green color while other tissue remains gray.

As it stands, the surgeon is always in the operating room during the procedure when using the da Vinci. They control the device from a console just a short distance away. While the manufacturer claims that the technology can be modified to work over long distances, it is not the focus of the company. Considering how popular it is becoming to see your doctor over Skype or other telepresence solutions, the demand for a long-distance da Vinci may be just around the corner.

Approved Procedures for the da Vinci

The da Vinci can’t do everything under the sun, and there are whole areas of medicine wherein the da Vinci is not allowed to perform any procedures. Though many of the early surgeries performed by the da Vinci have been gynecological, the FDA approved uses have since expanded.

Currently, the da Vinci can be used in the following surgical areas:

  • Urology
  • Gynecology
  • General surgery
  • Thoracic surgery
  • Cardiac surgery


The First of Many Robotic Solutions

The da Vinci is sure to be one of the first of many robotic-assisted surgical solutions, and in the future, we can expect artificial intelligence to play a key role. With a sophisticated AI system, surgery may be able to completely fall into the realm of robotics and diminish or completely eliminate surgical mishaps and the litigation that follows it. Given time, the da Vinci may be remembered as a precursor to a new era in surgical history and find a place in the International Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago.

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