RAVENS have a bad reputation. Medieval monks, who liked to give names to everything (even things that did not need them), came up with “an unkindness” as the collective noun for these corvids. Blake Hannaford and his colleagues at the University of Washington, in Seattle, however, hope to change the impression engendered by the word. They are about to release a flock of medical robots with wing-like arms, called Ravens, in the hope of stimulating innovation in the nascent field of robotic surgery.
Robot-assisted surgery today is dominated by the da Vinci Surgical System, a device that scales down a surgeon’s hand movements to let him make tiny incisions. That leads to less tissue damage, and thus a quicker recovery for patients. Almost 2,000 da Vincis have been made, and they are used in about 200,000 operations a year around the world, most commonly hysterectomies and prostate removals.