Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci robot is a technical marvel. Nearly half a million operations were performed in the U.S. by surgeons controlling its large, precise arms last year. One in four U.S. hospitals has one or more of the machines, which perform the majority of robotic surgeries worldwide and are credited with making minimally invasive surgery commonplace.
But when executives from Verb Surgical, a secretive joint venture between Alphabet and Johnson & Johnson, presented at the robotics industry conference RoboBusiness late last month, they made the da Vinci sound lame.
Intuitive’s machine, with an average selling price of $1.54 million, is too expensive and bulky, they grumbled. Pablo Garcia Kilroy, Verb’s vice president of research and technology, complained that while da Vinci is an impressive tool, it’s a dumb one that hasn’t widely transformed surgery. He said that while it enables surgeons to perform very delicate movements, it doesn’t assist with the cognitive skills that set the best surgeons apart.