Google and a Johnson & Johnson unit announced [that] they will be working together to make robots that can assist in surgeries, a strategic collaboration with no price tag announced. The aim of the project appears to be similar to the da Vinci robots manufactured and sold by Sunnyvale’s Intuitive Surgical, the third largest public Silicon Valley company in the biotech/health care sector.
Google stressed that the life sciences team at Google X will only be providing and sensors for the proposed systems, with J&J’s Ethicon unit handling the rest of work. The Mountain View company’s robotics arm — Google acquired robotics firm Boston Dynamics in late 2013 — will not be involved.
“We think we can use some of our machine vision and image analysis software to help surgeons see better as they operate (e.g. to highlight blood vessels) or make it easier for them to see information that’s relevant to the surgery at just the right time,” a Google spokeswoman said in an email exchange.
The life sciences team at Google’s experimental X division has announced several other ventures in its , including a contact lens that can monitor glucose levels, a spoon that can help those with tremors from Parkinson’s and similar diseases eat without spilling, and pills that can search inside a body for cancer and potentially other maladies. Google has also spun off a biotechnology company called Calico that signed a deal with pharmaceutical giant AbbVie to develop drugs for Alzheimer’s and age-related illnesses.
In this latest endeavor, Google runs head-on into Intuitive Surgical, the 35th-largest Silicon Valley tech company in terms of revenues. The Sunnyvale company has had a fast rise in terms of revenues and market valuation, but hit some serious speed bumps along the way, indicating the tricky nature of this business.
While its original da Vinci robot sold briskly at nearly $2 million apiece for a couple of years, Intuitive Surgical soon hit a wall amid a Food and Drug Administration investigation and a series of lawsuits questioning the safety of operations performed with the devices. However, Intuitive Surgical last year had a new robot approved by the FDA, which has helped its prospects since the previous device seemed to have reached a point where few hospitals that did not have it were prepared to purchase one.
A company spokeswoman said Friday that the effort by Google and Ethicon was a validation of Intuitive Surgical’s work.
“This announcement is just the latest confirmation that computer-assisted surgery continues to grow to the point that others can no longer sit on the sidelines,” she said in an emailed statement, later adding, “Computer-assisted surgery will continue to flourish around the globe and competitors have been expected.”
Intuitive Surgical — which has traded for less than $350 in the past year after nearing $600 a share at its 2012 peak — closed Friday with a 0.4 percent decline at $497.25. Google fell 1.1 percent to $557.55 after disclosing Thursday afternoon an initial pay package of more than $70 million for incoming Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat.