Today Gary Guthart is best known as the CEO of Intuitive Surgical (NSDQ:ISRG), the world’s leading medical robotics company. But robot-assisted surgery wasn’t Guthart’s first love, he told MassDevice.com ahead of his keynote appearance at this year’s DeviceTalks West event.
That honor goes to NASA (or, more properly, science). During his teenage years growing up in Sunnyvale, Calif., Guthart told us, he landed a job at the space agency that helped shape the course of his life.
“I was a shy kid and a good math student. It turns out I had a knack for math,” Guthart recalled. “Then, my senior year of high school, a calculus teacher said, ‘Hey, I am going to sign you up for an internship.’ He actually signed me up without telling me.
“I wound up in a human factors research lab run by a woman named Sandra Hart. I wrote software for evaluating the performance of combat pilots when under stress,” he said.
Guthart never looked back, he added.
“I decided, ‘I can’t believe I get paid to do this.’ I got to ride my bike onto, it was at that time a Naval base and a NASA base, so I had a little security clearance and rode through the little armed gates and got to watch experimental aircraft fly in and out of the base and meet shuttle pilots – and all as a teenager,” he said. “I thought, ‘I am in. That is it. I don’t care what else I am doing, but if I get paid to do this, this is the best job in the world.’ So that was my entry into science.”
After a nine-year stint in academia, during which Guthart earned a Ph.D. in fluid mechanics, he landed at an applied research lab at Stanford Research Institute when a chance encounter at a basketball game put medical robotics on his radar.
“While I was out at SRI, I would play basketball over lunch every lunchtime on the SRI basketball court. It was a good game, it was full, and I am standing on the sidelines (because I wasn’t a great basketball player) and I am starting with the person next to me, and he said, ‘Do you know anything about this kind of non-linear math, I am struggling with this surgical robot I am trying to make?’ That is how I ran into surgical robots,” he told us.