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2004 World Technology Awards Winners & Finalists

Intuitive Surgical

Please describe the work that you are doing that you consider to be the most innovative and of the greatest likely long-term significance.

Intuitive Surgical is the leader in the rapidly emerging field of robotic-assisted surgery. By enhancing surgical capability, Intuitive’s aim is to provide surgeons and hospitals with the tools needed to improve clinical outcomes and to help patients return to active and productive lives.

Over the past two decades there’s been a revolutionary transition occurring in surgery. Previously, all surgeries were performed “open,” where an incision was made in the body large enough for the surgeon to plainly see, and insert his or her hands into, the surgical field. The large incisions that open surgery required inevitably created significant patient trauma. This caused substantial pain and suffering, extended recovery time, and—subsequently—incurred significant costs.

Approximately 20 years ago however, surgeons began practicing a new way to perform surgery —minimally invasive surgery (MIS). Minimally invasive surgery, refers to surgery performed in ways other than through large "open" incisions in the body. Although revolutionary in its effect on patient trauma and recovery times, MIS has significant technical drawbacks. The surgeon operates using a 2-D monitor instead of looking at his or her hands, making all movement counterintuitive. The lack of 3-D visualization of the operative field, the poor ergonomic design, and the lack of touch sense offered by the laparoscopic instruments are also significant drawbacks. As a result, this type of MIS has turned out to be suitable for only the simplest surgical procedures.

In the late 1990s, however, another revolutionary surgical technique called robotic-assisted surgery was introduced with the da Vinci Surgical System at the forefront. The System is making it possible to convert complex procedures in a broad range of surgical specialties from open surgeries to those using minimally invasive techniques. The da Vinci Surgical System consists of an ergonomically designed surgeon’s console, a patient-side cart with four interactive robotic arms, a high performance vision system and proprietary EndoWrist Instruments. Powered by state-of-the-art robotic technology, the surgeon’s hand movements are scaled, filtered and seamlessly translated into precise movements of the EndoWrist Instruments. The net result: an intuitive interface with breakthrough surgical capabilities.