I think this is the year that a new type of player may disrupt the thinking in the surgical robotic market and with that will come fantastic career opportunities in the medical device marketplace.

It is interesting, I view it as the same way that some people identify with their automobile as a representation of “who they are” and others just see their automobile as an appliance that gets them from point A to point B. Neither is right or wrong.

The 2018 Cadillac Escalade is a luxurious automobile jam packed full of comfort, performance, technology, bells and buzzers that make the travel from Point A to Point B an “experience”. The Ford 150, the top-selling automotive product in the United States also gets you from Point A to Point B and is a solid automobile.

One is around $30,000 and the other is $100,000. It depends on what you want.

Imaging, navigation, and robotics are the basic pillars of surgical robotics.  Surgeons want to see better than they can with the unaided eye and then they want to be able to navigate to a point in space that they might not otherwise be able to access. The ability to do that will continue to come from the rapidly emerging software capabilities, sensors, UI/UX, AR, and processing power.

The surgical robotic market is achieving some meaningful adoption. There is still a ways to go but I believe that this will be the year that companies entering the “surgical robotic field” will decide if they are the going to play as a luxury brand car and be a digital surgery ecosystem or instead position themselves as the appliance that gets the job done. The good news is that both types of companies can win.

The markets themselves may not even matter. Ortho, aesthetics, spine/neuro, cardio / structural heart……the emerging era of the Ubiqui-Bot, sorry I could not help myself. The application of multiple technologies on a single platform is a real possibility in the emerging surgical suite.

There will be a segment of the market that the “robot” will not be the center of attention but merely a delivery system as a better way for the surgeon to get from Point A to Point B. I have referred to this type of surgical robotic system as a “Here Hold This” (HHT) technology. These HHT surgical robots will have tremendous imaging capabilities, suggested surgical planning technologies and be agnostic about the surgical procedure. An early simple example of this is Stryker’s Mako surgical robotic platform which already is performing surgery on hips, knees and whatever else they launch in 2018.

Robots that come from the mega-experienced industrial robot world like the KUKA platform who has recently entered the surgical robotic market are an example of such a platform/company. I discuss the markets in this Article: Robotics, Specialty or Commodity.

Ortho, aesthetics, spine/neuro, cardio / structural heart……the emerging era of the Ubiqui-Bot, sorry I could not help myself.

Respectfully, the medtech industry has never been a best-in-class software or hardware playing field but all that is changing. We are already seeing insanely talented individuals crossing over from non-medtech industries. Drone companies, gaming companies, social media companies and aerospace companies are all markets that are providing some of the best and brightest minds who are throwing their problem-solving skills at the emerging surgical robotic marketplace.

Greenfield opportunities and the ability to be at the forefront of a rapidly emerging market and being able to “pull a lever on Monday and having something happen on Tuesday” is refreshing for those who are getting in early. It takes a “village” to put out the surgical robotic platform. Roles emerging in software, electrical, hardware, systems, quality, clinical, regulatory will benefit from these platforms.

Technologies pushing us forward:

Ambient Intelligence technologies in the operating room will collect information through sensors, smart materials, I/O device technology and software which allow a system to be sensitive and responsive to the presence of people, the identity of the individuals, and recognition of their activities in the surgical suite.

Sensor fusion technologies that will provide tremendous data acquisition opportunities from embedded sensors and sensor networks.

Artificial Intelligence & Deep Learning which will assist all on the healthcare team with predictive services like we have on our texting apps and Google searches.

Computer Vision continues to make dramatic moves forward with machine learning, artificial intelligence, sensor technology, image and signal processing, computer graphics, which are all ideal for robotics, VR, AR – digital surgery.

What a fantastic time to be in this market. As with all emerging markets, there will be stops and starts, cutting left when we should have cut right. No matter what though, the ride is going to be a blast.


Written by Joe Mullings

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