back to article Robot surgeon outperforms human doctor with porcine patients

Surgeons beware, your jobs may not have a long-term future after a robot managed to stitch together live soft tissue better than its fleshy counterparts. A paper published in Science Transitional Medicine on Wednesday detailed how the "Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot" (STAR) was put to the test, stitching together the intestines …

  1. DougS Silver badge

    Speed demon

    Maybe it is slower now, but it is a lot easier to speed up a machine without harming the outcome than it is to speed up a human. In surgery, minutes and sometimes seconds count.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Speed demon

      "Robot surgeon outperforms human doctor with porcine patients"

      Presumably it's targeting the American market then?

      1. DiViDeD Silver badge

        @AC Re: Speed demon

        Oh, that was a mean low blow!

        Well done that man, keep it up!

  2. EddieD


    Many years ago - at school, to be precise, so that's 34+ years ago - I saw a video (actually, now I think of it, it was 16mm film) of a surgeon sewing a heart into place during a transplant. It looked like a sewing machine at work he was so fast.

    But, I've absolutely no doubt that a robot - or more likely for the time being, a machine under the direction of a surgeon - could be a lot faster, and you use more advanced stitching techniques, e.g. like a sewing machine use two "threads" to make the join firmer, and get much finer stitching than most human surgeons can get.

    I've been lucky - my appendix scar is all but invisible, thanks to the skill of the surgeon who stitched me (it was the surgeon, not a nurse, according to his registrar), but bring it on - I think it will be, in the right circumstances, a very great advance.

    1. Graham Dawson

      Re: Speed...

      They use glue in a lot of cases these days, especially for keyhole surgery. My appendix scar is so light I often have trouble finding it.

  3. DocJames

    As a physician...

    ...who is somewhat cynical about my surgical colleagues (insert joke about wiping knuckles here - surgeons are usually considered as less intelligent than other fields in medicine) I have to say that their technical skills are awesome. It always looks much easier than it actually is.

    I'd point out that leaving someone open for an extra 28 minutes is clearly harmful... so a bit of speeding up to be done first.

    Icon for after operating, not before -->

  4. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Surgeons *will* fight this tooth and nail to the bitter end.

    They will cite speed. The machines will get faster. At some point they will be faster and more accurate than a human.

    They will cite safety. The first 16 patients to repair shrapnel damage to the heart killed all the patients. However they were all pigs.

    They will say it doesn't care about it's patients. And?

    What they won't say is it makes skills they have have spent hundreds of $1000 acquiring reproducible and (ultimately) the only surgeons you will need will be those to develop new surgical procedures. A much smaller number.

    1. Triggerfish

      Re: Surgeons *will* fight this tooth and nail to the bitter end.

      I think a lot of those skills and new techniques are taught post surgery as well. My friend works in surgical sales, (actually has played with the Da Vinci Bot as well), and she has to learn new surgical techniques to teach the surgeons especially when its new developments being put in. She used to work for a company that developed replacement disc for the back, her training consisted of being taught how to do that operation first on dead pigs, then on cadavers before showing surgeons the new technique.

      Not sure why the skills being made easier and cheaper by robots is a bad thing though.

    2. AndyS

      Re: Surgeons *will* fight this tooth and nail to the bitter end.

      I don't think Surgeons will fight this.

      Unlike taxi drivers, they offer a level of decision making, skill and education that makes replacing them very difficult indeed. What this robot aims to do is to automate some of the post-surgery tidying up (stitching up is normally currently left to the juniors, even often nurses).

      This isn't a replacement for surgeons as much as a new tool for them to use.

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: Surgeons *will* fight this tooth and nail to the bitter end.

        Yes I should add my friend has the Technical skills, e.g the sewing and stuff. She has no medical training though as the person above say's its the brains you pay for in a surgeon.

        1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

          Re: Surgeons *will* fight this tooth and nail to the bitter end.

          This is just a small part of what surgical robots can do. Eventually, they will be put together (and I don't see that being all that far away - say 50 years for a fully-functioning tin surgeon). I teach medical students in one of my roles at the moment, and I tell them that is is the "soft" skills (those involving human interaction) that are going to be marketable by the end of their careers, not their physical skills. Many of them are already aware of it - the ones wanting to be orthopaedic surgeons look worried though :-)

  5. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    It's a sewing machine. Which is fine by me. If parts of me should need stitching again, I want them to use the best tools availiable for the job. But why does is has to be a 'robot' with a fancy acronym?

  6. ravenviz

    But how will it do in Robot Wars?

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Quite well. Its opponents will be stitched up good an pwoppa.

  7. Graham Marsden

    Just wait...

    ... until it leaves a couple of gears inside someone...

  8. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. Cynic_999 Silver badge


    This is a fancy tool (instrument) that a surgeon will use. It is no more a "robot surgeon" than a pair of forceps.

    There is enough variety in the mechanical details of animals that fully automated surgery would require very exceptional robotic systems and algorithms to cope with all the unknown variables before even a simple operation could be carried out without a human "driver" controlling & guiding the machine.

    It would be far easier to make robots to autonomously perform different tasks common in motor mechanics, because every car of a particular make and model has all its parts in exactly the same place, the components usually react completely predictably, and the mechanic does not have to constantly monitor how well the engine is running while working on it.

    You would think that by now a busy service garage would have a robotic system where you could simply drive your car onto a machine, which would take off the wheels and fit new tyres to them before replacing the wheels with no human intervention.

    1. Triggerfish

      Re: Mis-named

      Emailed the article to my Med sales friend, first thing she said was that it looks excellent for reaching parts that are usually to small for a human hand to reach easily, like prostate surgery.

  10. x 7

    just another step in an existing trend

    three years my son broke both radius and ulna when he fell off the top of a fence (13 year old kids playing....)

    His medical records make it clear that the repair surgery (two plates) was carried out by a robot

    as for appendix scar is around seven inches, not exactly keyhole surgery, but even that was glued together.

    1. Triggerfish

      Someone I know had a shin length gash from a bike accident initially they started to stitch it but a surgeon pooh poohed the idea as it would leave worse scars.

  11. Ru'

    " stitching together the intestines of live and dead pigs "

    I'm not sure the live pigs would be very happy to have their intestines joined to those of dead pigs...

  12. AceRimmer1980


    Surgeon fucks up=possible action suit, so apart from the human aspect of caring for the patient, he/she wouldn't want the bad press.

    Robot fucks up=developers shrug shoulders, and point to the terms and conditions that the patient signed. The pint is what I'm betting that people don't even read them for Flash updates.

    I'm guessing that when this goes live, the NHS will give you a robot by default, unless you go private, or the paramedic that brought you in decides it's outside the range of 'bottable conditions.

  13. davcefai


    I think it was a character in a Tess Gerritsen novel who remarked "I can teach a monkey to operate. I cannot teach it _when_ to operate."

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