Major players in the field include Cambridge Medical Robotics (CMR), a U.K.-based OEM working on a portable surgical robot called the Versius.
CMR recently completed Series A financing, and CEO Martin Frost believes the technology will transform the existing market. Frost answered some questions MDO had via e-mail about his company’s technology.
Tell me about your technology and what you think makes it competitive among other robotic surgical devices?
Frost: When launched next year, Versius will be the smallest, slimmest and most flexible surgical robot in the world. It will be the first surgical robot designed to allow surgeons to undertake minimal access (or keyhole) procedures without having to change their procedure to fit in with the needs of the robot. Unlike its competitors, Versius is small enough to be moved from one operating room to another, giving hospitals an unprecedented amount of freedom and flexibility about how they use the system. Combined with its highly flexible bio-mimicking design, Versius offers the potential to bring the benefits of minimal access surgery to millions of people each year.
MDO: What procedures are you looking at and what are some of the design decisions you are making based on that end-use market?
Frost: Versius was designed with the surgeon in mind and capable of performing the overwhelming majority of minimal access procedures. Its tiny footprint allows for improved OR workflow, and the inclusion of collaborative technology within the robot allows it to be safe to work alongside. The open console design allows surgeons to both adopt a highly ergonomic position to reduce surgeon fatigue and, at the same time, facilitate improved communications with the rest of the surgical team.
MDO: What is the actual footprint of the Versius?
Frost: The exact specifications of Versius will be revealed closer to launch. However, our estimates suggest that it will be a fraction of the size of robots on the market today.
MDO: How far along are you in the development stage? What are your immediate goals and where do you see the company in 5 years?
Frost: We are in the late development phase of Versius and anticipate bringing the robot to the market in 2018.
Our ambition is to be the company that brings the benefits of surgical robotics to everyone who needs it; reducing the length of stay in hospital, the chance of infection, post-operative pain, scar size and the long-term use of opioid drugs.
MDO: Which market will see the Versius first (U.S., EU, etc)? What is the strategy behind the market introduction decisions?
Frost: Naturally launch plans remain confidential, however, we can confirm that the system will be available in countries where we receive the necessary regulatory approvals such as CE mark and 510k.
MDO: How do you feel about pricing strategies for the robotic surgical systems? Are there ways to cut costs?
Frost: We believe that there is a huge appetite for change in the way that hospitals and organizations pay for and manage surgical robots and lack of affordability has been key to the lack of adoption of existing systems. Versius has been designed to bring the benefits of robotics technology to the OR but at a cost point that is far closer to current manual procedures.
MDO: What hard lessons have you learned as a company? What would you do differently?
Frost: Engineering a surgical robot is difficult; engineering one that works in a way never seen before is even harder. However, the many long hours and late nights plowed into the design and development of Versius will be worth it – we ultimately just focus on how it will revolutionize the surgical experience and patient care. If we were to do anything differently, we would probably order more Diet Cokes for our hard-working and thirsty engineers.
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