Flex robot for head and neck surgery
Howie Choset is a renown robotics professor at CMU, and invented a cool snake-like robot for climbing poles. "Howie was not focused on medical applications, but fate intervened when he met Marco Zenati, MD, a cardiac surgeon then at Pitt/UPMC, now at Harvard. Marco immediately recognized the possibility for surgery. With NIH funding, the next generation prototype was 11 millimeters in diameter." The first generation was called CardioARM, featuring 102 joints.
In 2009, they founded Cardiorobotics, and started limited trials the next year in the Czech Republic. However, soon they realized that cardiac procedures are just too complex and patient-specific to robotize efficiently. Also, around that time FDA started to require PMA clearance procedure for cardiac systems, rather than allowing anything to go down 510(k), as all current robotic systems did. (Remember, the da Vinci was also aimed for cardiac surgery initially.) Thus Medrobotics was born, and the Flex system! Its focus has become head-and-neck surgery, an area where the da Vinci is also active, yet, concerns over the efficacy are growing. “We enable the ENT (the head and neck) surgeon to access and operate with both hands in the difficult-to-reach anatomy of the oropharynx and larynx (voice box).”
By the end of 2011, the company has raised $28.3M in three rounds, from business angels, and since then, they raised another $43.6M, and now being in "advanced phase for FDA approval, sought for late 2013".
The Flex is capable of integrating third party manufactured instruments fitting into the tool channel, and equipped with (only) 2D HD camera with adjustable depth-focus.