Watch Surgical Robot Deftly Suture a Grape

We’ve covered Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci surgical robot for years. In fact, to some, the system’s long history—1.5 million surgeries dating back to 2000—may be one of its most surprising attributes. But this video really drives home the system’s dexterity. Using a new tool, the FDA-approved Single-Site Wristed Needle Driver, a surgeon guides the bot to gently stitch the skin back onto a grape. Inside a glass bottle.

If you aren’t familiar with the da Vinci surgical robot—it’s not a robot in the sense you might imagine. This isn’t Prometheus. The da Vinci’s robotic arms still require a human operator to perform surgery.

The surgeon sits across the room from the robotic arms and, looking through a viewfinder, manipulates a pair of controls. As the surgeon works, his or her movements are translated to the arms, onto which a range of end effectors (or tools) can be attached. Using a surgical robot requires long training and practice.

The idea is simple though. The robot is said to enable less invasive surgery by way of smaller incisions. This, in turn, means less scarring, shorter recovery times, and a lower probability of complications.

As far back as 2010, surgeons were using the robot to perform some 86% of prostate surgeries and 10% of hysterectomies (up from less than 1% in 2007) in the US. Whether its professed benefits play out in practice, however, has been a matter of debate. At least one study, out of Johns Hopkins, called into question the benefits of robotic surgery as compared to human surgery and noted its greater cost.

In either case, the system’s popularity is hard to deny.

Dreams for the future include telesurgery—where we might install a surgical robot in a field hospital thousands of miles away, and operated by a top surgeon, it would (securely) transport his or her skills around the globe to where they’re most needed—and maybe, much further on, some degree of autonomy.

But such capabilities are still ahead of us. For now, we can marvel at the dexterity with which this surgeon handles their robotic tools. And no doubt, grapes everywhere can feel more secure such tech exists.

Image Credit: Da Vinci Surgery/YouTube

Jason Dorrier
Jason Dorrier
Jason is editorial director of Singularity Hub. He researched and wrote about finance and economics before moving on to science and technology. He's curious about pretty much everything, but especially loves learning about and sharing big ideas and advances in artificial intelligence, computing, robotics, biotech, neuroscience, and space.
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