Virtual Incision is developing remotely operated robots that are small enough to perform abdominal surgeries in challenging locations, whether that's in a field hospital or aboard the International Space Station.
The company, headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska, with offices in Pleasanton, California, has already tested its robots on NASA's "vomit comit," a plane that flies in parabolas to create weightlessness, and in a NASA mission that put astronauts in an underwater habitat to simulate the remoteness of space.
The robots have yet to fly with the International Space Station, but the start-up is hoping to land its technology there in the future, and perhaps even on missions to the moon and Mars.
According to Chief of Technology and co-founder Shane Farritor, Virtual Incision's robots are like laptops compared to the mainframe-sized devices out on the market today, namely Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci Surgical System.
Virtual Incision's "robotically assisted surgical device," or RASD, is only about as big as a person's fist. It weighs just two pounds, and is made of materials that are safe for use inside the body. By contrast, other robots used to perform surgeries weigh hundreds or thousands of pounds and aren't portable.
Rather than featuring arms that reach all around a patient, Virtual Incision's robot goes into the body through a small incision along the navel, and maneuvers within using miniaturized tools, including a tiny laparoscope, graspers and scissors.