Handheld robotics and virtual reality converge in the operating room

VR training and robotic precision aid surgical outcomes and change how surgeons operate.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

Virtual Reality has become an important tool in many surgical training regimens, and robots have been assisting in surgeries for more than a decade. So it's perhaps not surprising that we're seeing a technology convergence in the OR.

Osso VR, maker of a VR surgical training platform, is now prepping orthopedic surgeons to use a handheld robotic device to perform implant surgeries. 

The robot is called the NAVIO surgical system, and if you're squeamish, this thing is frankly terrifying. It looks like a gun and it's used by surgeons to remove bone surface semi-autonomously during knee replacement. As illustrated in the embedded video, it strikes this medical layman like a handheld torture gun.

But surgery is increasingly going robotic. Following the blockbuster success of the Da Vinci surgical robot, companies have been scrambling to develop or acquire robotic surgical technology to bring the reliability of automation to the art of surgery. Johnson & Johnson recently acquired under-the-radar surgical robotics company Auris Health for more than $5 billion

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At the same time, virtual reality, which has struggled to live up to its market hype in the consumer sector, has found a niche in surgical training. Accredited surgical training is now offered in virtual reality, capitalizing on the power of 4K, 360 degree immersive technology. Medicine has long struggled to find economical and ethical ways to prepare students for the operating theater. As VR seeks to find its footing in an increasingly skeptical market, healthcare has been a beacon of enterprise adoption.

So the convergence of the technologies was perhaps inevitable. Osso VR's virtual training module for the NAVIO Surgical System is billed as the first application of this type of immersive coaching for a robotics-assisted device.

"NAVIO is a natural fit for virtual training and assessment as it involves robotics-assisted surgical steps coupled with a novel software interface, and Osso VR has demonstrated success instilling confidence in the technology of similar procedures," explains Justin Barad, MD and CEO of Osso VR.

The spread of VR training into robotic surgery is an example of how disparate technologies are converging to transform healthcare. Mixed Reality is expected to become more than a $6 billion market by 2025, and the global robotics in healthcare market could be worth double that in the next few years.

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