Intuitive Surgical’s (NSDQ:ISRG) da Vinci system is making big strides in global robotic domination with training centers set to open in Japan and India this year.
A Japanese robot-assisted surgery training center, the first of its kind in the country, will open in Fujita Health University Hospital in the spring, according to the Japan Times Online.
Co-sponsored by Intuitive Surgical and Fujita Health, the training center will draw physicians from the 40 hospitals around the country which already have da Vinci systems installed.
Doctors will be able to observe surgical procedures, pick up new techniques and practice on dead pigs, according to the Times.
The training center comes at the urging of the Japan Society for Endoscopic Surgery, which called for surgeons to get training from robot makers after a patient died during a da Vinci-assisted procedure in 2010. The cause was determined to be a lack of proper training in using the system, the news source reported.
A robot-assisted surgery training center is also expected to go live in India before the end of the year, according to the Deccan Chronicle.
The Indian initiative is headed by the Vattikuti Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to "making robotic surgery and other technologically advanced medical procedures of the future cost effective and available to underprivileged communities."
The foundation’s Robotic Surgery Institute has been working with hospitals in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and elsewhere to bring advanced surgical procedures to the underserved in the country
"India has immense scope for robotic surgery. What we need is skilled manpower for doctors who can conduct the surgery," Vattikuti foundation CEO Mahendra Bhandari said during a robotics conference recently. "It will be our first step to help overcome the shortage of high-quality training on robotic surgery in India. The center will provide services of skilled surgeons at affordable costs. By 2016, we expect 30,000 surgeries to be done annually with the new technology."
While the foundation relies on the da Vinci system to provide minimally invasive care to underprivileged populations, it’s not clear whether the foundation is tied to Intuitive in any other way. Representatives from the two organization didn’t return requests for comment.
While training centers are popping up overseas, hacker groups at university labs in the U.S. are teaming up to give robotic surgery a programming jump-start.
Armed with a $1.1 million National Science Foundation grant, the Raven program is distributing two-armed surgical robots to academic teams which are encouraged to hack the software and enhance, alter and entirely reprogram the machine, MSNBC reported.
The project aims to spur innovation in robot-assisted surgery, which has been otherwise dominated by Intuitive’s virtual monopoly on the market.
The Raven system will ship to a total of 5 universities and comes with an open-source software package, meaning programers "will modify that software, invent their cool things, and then share them within this community so that we can build off of each other’s advances," the director of the biorobotics lab at the University of Washington in Seattle, Blake Hannaford, told MSNBC.
Some of the inspiration behind the Raven project may be a perceived opportunity to compete with the da Vinci system. Companies "waiting for the right time to jump in" may be waiting for some key Intuitive Surgical patents to expire, according to Hannaford.
At least one person at the Indian robotics conference should be happy to hear of the efforts at creating a new da Vinci competitor.
"Till now, the robot is manufactured by California-based Intuitive Surgical," Gagan Gautam, senior consultant and head of uro-oncology and robotic surgery at Medanta Kidney and Urology Institute, told the Deccan Chronicle. "One particular company maintains monopoly in the market; competition could help us bring down the cost."