Paul: Today we are pleased to bring you the first of a two-part interview with Dr. Tamás Haidegger. Tamás is a youthful but already quite distinguished pioneer, researcher, author, surgeon, entrepreneur and blogger in the field of robotic surgery.
Dr. Tamás Haidegger
Dr. Tamás Haidegger: Hi Paul, thanks for having me.
Paul: You’ve been following developments in the robotic surgery field for over 10 years. Tell us how you first got involved in this area and share some highlights of your journey?
Dr. Tamás Haidegger: I became fascinated by surgical robotics about
13 years ago. I was preparing a review on space robotics (which was my preferred research topic as an undergrad), and read a news article on the neuroArm, the MRI compatible robot. NeuroArm was developed at the University of Calgary in collaboration with MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA), who built CANADARM for the space shuttle and CANADARM-2 and DEXTRE for the International space Station (ISS).
I fell in love immediately with the field. I dedicated my undergrad and grad program to surgical robotics, then was happy to be the first person to graduate with a PhD in this field in Hungary. Over the past 5 years I have been working on building my lab to become a potent research center in Computer-Integrated Surgery.
Paul: What have you found to be most perplexing and worrisome developments in the robotic surgery space? What have been your biggest surprises?
Dr. Tamás Haidegger: I am seeing some amazing development in the domain of nanorobots, which are representing astonishing engineering, yet their future wider adoption and potential misuse bothers me a lot. I’m still being surprised by how complex this field is and just how challenging it is to make a product successful. You definitely need good engineering and good business models but also a pot of luck.
Paul: How do you see the field of robotic surgery evolving over the next 5 to 10 years? What from your perspective are key problems to be addressed and opportunities to be seized? Where do you think innovation is most needed?
Dr. Tamás Haidegger: We are able to solve many of the mechatronic issues, and even the integration of some limited cognitive functions (e.g., decision support systems) is now a reality. Again, the major challenge is still to bring these technical advances to the market, and provide real clinical and economic benefit.
Paul: Which companies and countries do you see as the current leaders and how do you think this may change over the next 5 years? What new services or products do you think will be needed? Any other opinions or insights you would like to share with startups & investors?
Dr. Tamás Haidegger: The USA is undoubtedly dominating the field, not only because of Intuitive Surgical and other big players, but also if you look at the amount of Venture Capital (VC) funding poured into the rising start-up companies,. It is evident that a wave of great new companies and products will be coming. It is particularly interesting to see the emergence of China, both on the technical level and the business side. The country does not have deep historical roots with robotics like Japan or South Korea, but, due to their targeted R&D funding programs, their key centers established significant development potential in robotics, and medical robotics particularly. I could think of half a dozen of new systems – aimed primarily for their domestic market, but that is just big enough for big business. In terms of foreign investment, China is now dominating the world in robotics, and it is just striking how much bigger the consumer industry is, thus big companies are able to easily acquire high tech robotics cos. (Think of the KUKA – Midea deal.)
Paul: There are high expectations for robotic surgery, what developments in your perspective could make the robotic surgery field obsolete? How likely is this?
Dr. Tamás Haidegger: We will definitely see less of the complex (and super-expensive) manual Minimally Invasive Surgical (MIS) tools. I also expect the simplification of the imaging part: once we can create robust and reliable surgical plans based on the images automatically, the whole Picture Archiving and Communication systems (PACS) concept could be redrawn, simplifying the human input. (Of course, we also leave the option for human override.)
Paul: Thank you Tamás for sharing these insights with us. We will continue our discussion next week during the second part of this interview.
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