As a kid, Adam Sachs, cofounder and CEO of Vicarious Surgical, watched the 1966 science-fiction movie Fantastic Voyage and was enamored of the premise of microscopic surgeons who performed surgery inside a scientist’s brain. “Humans are the wrong size to operate on humans,” he says. “We’re not going to shrink humans down, but we can create avatars of them. We can create little miniature robotic versions.”
That’s just what he and his Vicarious Surgical cofounders—Sammy Khalifa, the company’s chief technology officer, and Dr. Barry Greene, its chief medical officer—have spent the past decade doing. They have developed an itty-bitty robot paired with a VR headset for abdominal surgeries that they hope to bring to market in 2023. Its two arms and camera are designed to enter the patient’s belly through an incision of less than an inch and operate in all directions once there. Shrinking a surgical robot down is exceptionally difficult, but by doing so the Vicarious trio hopes to help doctors perform abdominal surgeries, starting with hernia operations, faster, safer and with fewer complications than existing alternatives.
It’s not exactly the sci-fistuffof the movie, in which doctors are injected into the patient’s bloodstream, but it’s futuristic enough that Vicarious has attracted A-list investors including Bill Gates, Vinod Khosla, Eric Schmidt and Jerry Yang. It has also received a breakthrough designation from the FDA—the first for a surgical robot—making it eligible for priority review.
“Putting the elbow down inside the body cavity and being able to reach back and work toward the abdominal wall is a pretty big deal,” says Paul Hermes, who ran Medtronic’s robotics program and is now an advisor to Vicarious. “We should expect robotic surgery to get better.”
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