According to The Nikkei Asia, in a lab at Tokyo Medical and Dental University, a doctor in a control booth is laser-focused on controllers in each hand. A mechanical arm hums as it cuts into and sutures a pig lying a few paces away.
This is to test a surgical robot developed by Riverfield, a medical startup spawned from the Tokyo Institute of Technology. The company aims to finalize its product as early as this month and bring it to market in fiscal 2022 for lung cancer and other patients.
The market for surgical robots was long dominated by the da Vinci surgical system from U.S.-based Intuitive Surgical. But newcomers like Riverfield have recently joined the fray as core patents of Intuitive have begun expiring, triggering cutthroat competition for better and cheaper products.
Riverfield's surgical robot runs on air pressure. "Unlike electric motors, which are more typical, using air pressure allows the doctors to feel subtle textures," Chairman Kenji Kawashima said. Better tactile feedback, combined with endoscope footage, will increase surgical accuracy.
Using air pressure also means a lighter robot with fewer components. Riverfield aims to price its surgical robot at 100 million yen (US$912,000) or less -- about half as much as popular da Vincis.
"We are targeting big hospitals that are looking for a second surgical robot," Kawashima said. The startup aims to sell 10 or so units in the first year.
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