Entrepreneur Martin Frost is taking on the corporate giants with a surgical robot that’s affordable for poorer hospitals.
On the outskirts of Cambridge, there’s an old, converted pig shed that’s shrouded in secrecy. Inside is a cohort of future surgeons being put through their paces. They spend hours upon hours honing their skills.
This room, however, isn’t filled with sweating medical students; it’s a training ground for robots, soon set to join their human counterparts in hospital operating theatres.
“The image you should have is of a human surgeon sitting behind a console, with 3D imaging [software] and hand controllers, which move a range of lightweight, free-moving robotic arms,” says Martin Frost, the chief executive of Cambridge Medical Robotics (CMR), which created and developed the machine surgeons.
Laparoscopic surgery is a technique – known as “keyhole surgery” – where small incisions are made into the patient, through which instruments and cameras can be threaded for a range of operations. Because the wounds involved are smaller than traditional open surgery, patients recover faster, with less scarring.
“There’s an existing laparoscopic market, but there’s a huge need still to address,” explains Frost: the millions of people who are still getting open and not laparoscopic surgery. “The tools to do keyhole are phenomenally difficult to use.”
The creators of these machines hope to dramatically improve the accuracy of this kind of procedure. “It’s about enhancing the surgeon’s natural dexterity,” says Frost. “Our design is deliberately bio-mimicking: it has a shoulder, elbow and wrist.”
Incorporated in 2014, CMR has been expanding rapidly, reaching a headcount of 100 in the past three years.
Image Credit: Cambridge Medical Robotics