Inside the glistening red cave of the patient’s abdomen, surgeon Michael Stifelman carefully guides two robotic arms to tie knots in a piece of thread. He manipulates a third arm to drive a suturing needle through the fleshy mass of the patient’s kidney, stitching together the hole where a tumor used to be. The final arm holds the endoscope that streams visuals to Stifelman’s display screens. Each arm enters the body through a tiny incision about 5 millimeters wide.
To watch this tricky procedure is to marvel at what can be achieved when robot and human work in tandem. Stifelman, who has done several thousand robot-assisted surgeries as director of NYU Langone’s Robotic Surgery Center, controls the robotic arms from a console. If he swivels his wrist and pinches his fingers closed, the instruments inside the patient’s body perform the same exact motions on a much smaller scale. “The robot is one with me,” Stifelman says as his mechanized appendages pull tight another knot.