Very soon the question will not be “what can robots do?”, but “is there anything robots can’t do?”.

Pharmaceutical and consumer product giant Johnson & Johnson announced on Friday that Ethicon, a medical device subsidiary of J&J, has entered into a strategic collaboration with Google’s Life Sciences team to “advance surgical robotics to benefit surgeons, patients and health care systems.”

Google
Image Credit: Carlos Luna, Flickr

The two firms will bring together their capabilities, intellectual property and expertise to develop a cutting-edge robotic-assisted surgical platform that will integrate advanced technologies to improve health care delivery in the operating room. The collaboration is supported by Johnson & Johnson Innovation in California.

More on new Google – J&J robotic surgery initiative

Johnson & Johnson is already a major manufacturer of medical devices. Analysts say Google’s role in the partnership is to develop new software and hardware to improve current equipment and devices in development. One possible avenue for innovation could be new imaging sensors and other features to enhance robotic surgery.

Robot-assisted surgery today nearly always involves a human surgeon controlling the  instruments using a computer or direct manipulation interface. Robotic surgical techniques allow for greater precision than is possible for a human operating with their hands, no matter how skilled. In may cases, this means much less invasive surgical procedures, leading to faster recovery times and lower costs.

Analysts also note that this collaboration is also about Big Data. The platform being developed by the two firms will be used to collect and analyze data related to the surgical procedures, with the goal of improving treatment and specific surgery practices through careful review. Of interest, the Google Glass device has been used in some robot-assisted surgery systems already, and others in the industry are hoping Google’s involvement will eventually help defray some of the high capital costs associated with developing robot-assisted procedures today.