About this Article
Written by: Beverly Tse
Written on: April 1st, 2011
Tags: health & medicine, biomedical engineering
Thumbnail by: © Intuitive Surgical, Inc./© Intuitive Surgical, Inc.
About the Author
Beverly Tse was a junior majoring in Biomedical Engineering at USC. She was introduced to the da Vinci Robotic console while she was volunteering at USC University Hospital and watched a prostatectomy operation utilizing the robot.
Stay Connected

Volume XIV Issue I > The Da Vinci Robot
Traditionally, surgeries were accomplished by cutting the skin and tissues of the patient in order to expose the structures and organs for operation. This required making sizable incisions on the patient's body, which in turn led to consequences such as longer recovery times and large post-operative scars. Since the efforts to advance robotics in medicine started in the 1960's, several prototypes have been created - none of them, however, has been able to successfully address the needs of complex surgery in a considerable scale. Since the beginning of the century, Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci® Surgical System has proved itself to be a solution to the problems associated with traditional, open surgery by providing a sophisticated robotic interface between surgeon and patient. The benefits of a robot-assisted surgery include smaller incisions, reduced bleeding, faster recovery periods, and improved post-operative cosmetics.


Nearly five centuries ago, Leonardo da Vinci designed the first robot in human form to prove that the human body's mechanism could be emulated by machines [1]. Since then, this idea has evolved and spread to different areas of application. In the medical field, engineers have devised a robot that not only assists physicians during complex surgeries, but offers them several advantages over conventional surgical methods in use today.
© Intuitive Surgical, Inc./© Intuitive Surgical, Inc.
Figure 1: The overall setup of a medical robot surgery. ©2013 Intuitive Surgical, Inc.
The da Vinci Robot (Fig. 1), built and designed by Intuitive Surgical in Sunnyvale, California, is a robot that has been revolutionizing medicine by helping surgeons treat a multitude of conditions, including, but not limited to, bladder cancer, coronary artery disease, prostate cancer, and throat cancer [2]. By using a medical camera and precise robotic arms, the da Vinci robot creates a reliable and effective interface for the surgery, simplifying the work for the doctor and speeding up the recovery of the patient.

The History of Medical Robots

The origins of medical robots date back to the 1960's, when the U.S military researched a method of decreasing the number of specialized surgeons on the battlefield. These efforts led to the creation of “telepresence surgery”, a platform in which a master surgeon controls a slave machine from a remote location [3]. With the collaboration of the United States Department of Defense, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Stanford Research Institute, the technology for the master-slave system was developed.
Medical robots have made an appearance on the surgical market during the past two decades, but its beginnings were relatively modest. In 1985, a surgical robot was used for drilling and performing biopsies during a brain surgery [3]. In 1989, an automaton named PROBOT was used to assist in a urological surgery and, even though it was proven to be safe and clinically effective in five patients, it was never mass produced [3]. Finally, in 1994, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first surgical robot to be made available commercially. Known as the AESOP (Automated Endoscopic System for Optimal Positioning), it was utilized by urologists and had a robotic arm with seven degrees of freedom. This arm was used to hold and manipulate the camera, eliminating the need for a surgical assistant and allowing the surgeon to have direct control over his field of vision [3].
These advances in robotics and medicine eventually led to the creation of the da Vinci robotic system, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration into the surgical market in 2000 [3].

A Breakdown of the da Vinci Robot

The da Vinci robot system consists of three primary components: a surgeon console, an InSite® Vision System that processes the image through the medical camera, and a medication cart that supports the robotic arms and operation tools (Fig. 2) [4]. These three components work together to give the surgeon complete control of the surgery [5].
© Intuitive Surgical, Inc./© Intuitive Surgical, Inc.
Figure 2: From left to right: Surgeon console, robot arms, InSite® Vision System ©2013 Intuitive Surgical, Inc.