According to The Nikkei Asian Review, a big opportunity is presenting itself as major patents owned by a maker of surgical robots have begun to expire -- and companies in Japan and elsewhere are already pouncing on it.
The patents are held by Intuitive Surgical of the U.S., which makes the da Vinci surgical system and has so far dominated the market.
In Japan, Olympus and Kawasaki Heavy Industries are working on surgical assistant robots, while Sony is also looking to move into the field with technologies from its image sensors and Aibo pet robot. Overseas, Alphabet, the parent of Google, is accelerating its research and development of automated surgical equipment, as are a host of startups.
In an automated surgery, artificial intelligence and robots enhance an operation's safety by replicating surgeons' judgments, making use of their experiences and by being more precise than humans.
Olympus has begun developing a surgical assistant that utilizes its endoscope technology. The National Cancer Center and other parties are involved. The partners hope to market the robot, which is meant to eliminate the need for "scopists," doctors who manipulate endoscopes, in 2024.
"We will produce an unprecedented surgical assistant system that has the brains of surgeons," said Masaaki Ito, head of the Department of Colorectal Surgery and Surgical Technology at the National Cancer Center Hospital East.
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