CMR Surgical, a leading surgical robotics company based in Cambridge, recently unveiled a new surgical robotic system that is small, portable, and cost-effective—Versius. The robot was launched as a part of CMR’s mission to provide greater access to affordable and beneficial minimal access surgery and stands as a competition to the da Vinci Surgical System developed by Intuitive Surgical. While the da Vinci robots have been in operation since 2001 in more than 70 hospitals across the UK, Versius is expected to start operating on patients for the first time next year.
Versius is smaller, more flexible, and versatile than existing robots, making it relevant for performing a wider range of operations such as laparoscopic surgery that is carried out with special instruments via small incisions. “A distinctive feature of Versius that makes it stand out is its independent modular arms, which make it quick and easy to set up,” says Luke Hares, co-founder of CMR Surgical. Each of the robot arms has flexible joints (similar to that of a human arm) that are controlled by a surgeon sitting at a console using two joysticks and a 3D screen. Robotic surgery also gives surgeons an increased dexterity in carrying out a surgical procedure. “While it takes around 80 hours to teach suturing with manual laparoscopic tools, it takes only half an hour to teach using Versius,” explains Mark Slack, a co-founder of CMR Surgical.
Slack further elaborates that Versius represents a paradigm shift in surgery. The ground-breaking design, coupled with genuine affordability, enables patients everywhere to experience the benefits of minimal access surgery such as smaller incisions, less trauma, and reduced pain and use of narcotics. While the price of the robot system hasn’t been revealed yet, CMR Surgical aims to make it more cost-effective than existing systems. The Versius robot is also expected to receive a European health and safety approval mark within the next few months.
Nadine Hachach-Haram, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at St Thomas' Hospital, London, says that robotics will play an increasingly important role in the operating room. "While surgeons will remain in control, with companies like CMR continuing to develop the human-robot interface, there may be simple parts of an operation, such as suturing or closing a wound that can be carried out by the robotic systems," she concludes. “And, in the future, it is also possible for these systems to have the ability to do surgery without human assistance.”