Can new forms of robotic technology transform RALP experience?

For the past 15 or so years, the daVinci brand of surgical robot, developed and made by Intuitive, has dominated the marketplace for surgical robots. However, changes are coming that may challenge that effective monopoly.

As reported in the AUA Daily News this morning, one of the sessions at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association this coming Saturday will deal with “Robots on the Horizon”.

Specifically, the article gives information about a number of innovations that have the potential to improve the quality of surgical robotic technique for the surgeon in the conduct of robot-assisted, laparoscopic radical prostatectomy (RALP):

  • The development of “haptic” feedback systems, which will allow the surgeon to actually “feel” what he is doing as well as being able to see it in close-up. Specifically, there is a new form of surgical glove that can be used by the surgeon that has been developed through the TIGERS (Touch and ImaGE guided Robotic Surgery) project in the UK. Supposedly, this glove is so sensitive and so realistic that a user can feel the equivalent of raindrops falling on his hand.
  • New types of robot being developed by groups in Europe, Japan, and Korea, including the Telelap ALF-X system, created in Italy, which is already available in Europe.
  • Robots with soft and flexible arms than can bend and twist inside the body to turn corners, avoid major blood vessels, and learn from the surgeon’s own movements through the use of “soft robotics”.

Quite apart from the technical capabilities of such new and more advanced robotic systems through which to accomplish minimally invasive surgery, the existence of a range of differing types of surgical robot should stimulate competition leading to reductions in the costs currently associated with RALP. And the technical innovations should make it possible for the best surgeons to carry out radical surgery with even greater sophistication and superior ability — ideally leading to a reduction in risk for side effects of surgery.

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