Google is making robots that could one day assist with surgery

google johnson and surgical robots da vinci system
Next time you need an operation, it might be Google robots doing the slicing. The search giant revealed its latest robotics venture: A partnership with beauty and pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson to develop surgeon-assisting machines for hospital rooms.

The details are a bit hazy, but according to the press release, Ethicon, a medical device subsidiary within the Johnson & Johnson empire, will be collaborating with Google’s Life Sciences team to produce “an innovative robotic-assisted surgical platform” with the goal of “improving health care delivery in the operating room.”

“For more than 60 years, Ethicon has developed products and technologies that have transformed the way surgery is done,” said Gary Pruden, Worldwide Chairmen of Johnson & Johnson’s Global Surgery Group. “This collaboration with Google is another important step in our commitment to advancing surgical care, and together, we aim to put the best science, technology, and surgical know-how in the hands of medical teams around the world.”

The form of these robots is unclear, but language in the press release suggests they, like the ‘robot surgeons’ currently in use, won’t be autonomous. “Robotic-assisted surgery […] uses technology to give surgeons greater control, access, and accuracy,” the press release elaborates. However, they might have greater artificial intelligence than the robotic devices already on the market. The release says that the machines will leverage “leading-edge robotic systems, imaging and data analytics.”

That approach seems to jibe with Google’s past forays into the sectors of medicine and robotics. The company last year partnered with Novartis to manufacture glucose-monitoring smart contact lenses, and two years ago, scooped up more than eight robotics firms, including functional robot maker Boston Dynamics. More recently, Google acquired talent from UK artificial intelligence startups Dark Blue Labs and Vision Factory to further DeepMinds, the company’s project to create a computer system capable of independent decision-making.

Whatever product comes out of the partnership, the combination of Google’s expertise and Johnson & Johnson’s market know-how should produce interesting results.

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