Robot surgery: Google's Verily to give doctors superhuman precision

Never fear, surgeons. Our secret robots will help you in the future, not replace you.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Verily, the new name for Google Life Sciences, is forming a company with Johnson & Johnson called Verb Surgical to develop medical robotics.

The new company emerges from the collaboration between pre-Alphabet Google and Johnson & Johnson announced in March. The pairing combines expertise from Johnson & Johnson's medical device company, Ethicon, and Google's prowess in exploiting mountains of data.

Rather than replace human surgeons, the goal is for Verb Surgical's robots, equipped with tools from Ethicon, to assist surgeons perform minimally invasive operations.

The new company envisages robots will improve accuracy and control during surgery, ultimately reducing physical trauma experienced by the patient.

Verb Surgical will aim to "make robots better surgical assistants", according to its website.

Johnson & Johnson boasted in a press release that Verb Surgical has already made "meaningful progress" on a robotics platform, which will support new surgical instruments being developed by Ethicon.

Verb Surgical has received investments from Ethicon, Johnson & Johnson and Verily. It's to be headquartered on Google's home turf of Mountain View, California, close to Google's many other projects, spanning driverless cars, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence.

The new robotics firm will be led by Verb Surgical CEO and president Scott Heinekens, who joined from Volcano Corporation, a manufacturer of imaging equipment for blood vessels of the heart.

Verb Surgical hasn't revealed much about its plans except to say it envisages surgery of the future will involve "machine learning, robotic surgery, instrumentation, advanced visualization, and data analytics".

Verily's CEO Android Conrad told Wired that it expects to be working with pharma, biotech, medical-device and diagnostic companies for the foreseeable future.

Ethicon and Verily have also contributed intellectual property and R&D assets to the joint venture, along with skills in management, technology and surgery.

Executives from Google will sit on Verb Surgical's board of directors alongside members from Ethicon, Johnson & Johnson Innovation and Verily.

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