ROBOTS have been giving surgeons a helping hand for years. In 2016 there were about 4,000 of them scattered around the world’s hospitals, and they took part in 750,000 operations. Most of those procedures were on prostate glands and uteruses.
But robots also helped surgeons operate on kidneys, colons, hearts and other organs. Almost all of these machines were, however, the products of a single company. Intuitive Surgical, of Sunnyvale, California, has dominated the surgical-robot market since its device, da Vinci, was cleared for use by the American Food and Drug Administration in 2000.
That is likely to change soon, for two reasons. One is that the continual miniaturisation of electronics means that smarter circuits can be fitted into smaller and more versatile robotic arms than those possessed by Intuitive’s invention. This expands the range of procedures robots can be involved in.