IW 50 Best: Intuitive Surgical Puts Robots in the Operating Room

Demand for high-tech surgical procedures contributes to growing revenues for medical systems manufacturer.

Robotic arms have been utilized on the plant floor for decades to achieve precision and speed in manufacturing processes.

Over the past 10 years, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Intuitive Surgical Inc. has been producing a similar technology for use in medical procedures. The company with 2009 revenues of $1.05 billion manufactures a robotic system called da Vinici for minimally invasive surgery.

When Intuitive Surgical launched da Vinci in 2000, it became the first robotic surgical system cleared by the FDA for general laparoscopic surgery, according to the company. As of June 30, 1,571 da Vinci systems had been installed in hospitals worldwide, mostly in the United States, the company reported in its second-quarter investor presentation.

The company sold 108 da Vinci systems in the second quarter, up from 76 during the year-earlier period. Revenue rose 34% for the three-month period to $351 million on higher demand for Intuitives robotic system. da Vinci surgical procedures increased 36% during the three-month period, driven by rising hysterectomy procedure volume, the company said on July 21 when announcing second-quarter earnings. In 2009 205,000 da Vinci procedures were performed, up 51% from 2008.

The da Vinci system features an ergonomically designed surgeon's console, a patient cart with four interactive robotic arms, a high-performance vision System and EndoWrist instruments, which are designed with seven degrees of motion that mimic the dexterity of the human hand and wrist.

The robotic system is designed to improved operational efficiencies, such as fewer complications and post-operative infections, reduced need for blood transfusions and post-operative pain management, simplified post-operative nursing care, and reduced length of stay.

The original prototype for da Vinci was developed in the late 1980s at SRI International under contract to the U.S. Army, the company notes on its website. Initial funding for the work was aimed at developing a system for performing battlefield surgery remotely. But possible commercial applications for minimally invasive surgeries became apparent, and in 1995 Intuitive was founded to develop such a system.

In January 1999, Intuitive launched the da Vinci Surgical System before making it commercially available a year later for general laparoscopic surgery. In the following years, the FDA cleared the da Vinci system for thoracoscopic (chest) surgery, for cardiac procedures performed with adjunctive incisions, urologic and gynecologic procedures.

In 2009 the company launched the da Vinci Si System, which includes enhanced 3-D high-definition resolution and an updated and simplified user interface.


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