Johnson & Johnson to build surgical robots with Google

Posted on 2 Apr 2015 by Michael Cruickshank

US healthcare products giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has announced a partnership with Google to build new surgical robots.

Ethicon, a medical-focused subsidiary of J&J will team up with the Google’s new Life Sciences team to build a number of new advanced technologies.

The centrepiece of this collaboration is the development of a wholly new ‘robot-assisted surgical platform’. This new platform will reportedly include both new software, as well as new robotic hardware.

While surgical robots have existed for more than a decade, the functionality of these devices has been rather limited. Current surgical robots are only used for very specific operations, and are not multi-functional.

In addition, the reliability and safety of these robots has been called into question, through several lawsuits, as well as FDA decisions which have resulted in product recalls.

Google’s Life Sciences team, which is under the fold of its secretive GoogleX division, would presumably be looking to address these problems.

J&J has been a long-time producer in the medical field and has even contributed parts to previous surgical robots including the ‘da Vinci’ system produced by Intuitive Surgical (pictured top).

“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,” said Gary Pruden, Worldwide Chairman, Global Surgery Group, Johnson & Johnson.

Life Sciences Push

While this deal has yet to clear anti-trust regulators, it represents a wider push by Google’s Life Sciences division into medical hardware.

The division first made waves with the announcement of a contact lens which constantly monitors the blood-sugar levels of diabetics. This was followed up by an
advanced spoon which can easily be used by suffers of Parkinson’s Disease.

Medical technology aided by Google’s big data and software expertise is a shrewd investment for the company, with the global biotech market growing at a 10.8% annual rate over the last 5 years according to research firm IBISWorld.