Two and a half years ago, employees at THINK Surgical, a robotic surgery development company in Fremont, California, were cleaning out a storage unit near their headquarters when they found an object that appeared to be an old robot arm.
Upon closer look, Micah Forstein, an assistant manager at the company, realized that the arm was a remnant—a prototype of an invention that had changed joint replacement surgery forever.
Called the Robodoc, the innovative robotic system allows surgeons to perform complicated hip and knee surgeries with greater precision using CT scans converted into three-dimensional virtual images for preoperative planning and computer-guided drilling. The tool has been used in more than 28,000 procedures worldwide.
Now, the fully recovered 1989 prototype will be forever memorialized in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
“It’s important for us to remember milestones in medical technology,” says Forstein.
The robot is the brainchild of the late veterinarian Howard “Hap” A. Paul and engineer-turned-orthopedic surgeon William Bargar, who were both working at the University of California, Davis, in the 1980s when Bargar recognized what he calls a dilemma in total hip arthroplasty, or hip replacement surgery.