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Why J&J and Google Are Teaming Up to Make Surgical Robots

When Johnson & Johnson Innovation in California looked for a partner to develop software for new robotic surgery tools, they turned to Google.

Chris Newmarker

Johnson & Johnson's Ethicon subsidiary has forged a partnership with Google to advance the field of surgical robotics.

The collaboration, facilitated by Johnson & Johnson Innovation in California, will focus on creating new robotic surgery tools that integrate best-in-class medical device technology with robotic systems, imaging, and data analytics.

"This collaboration with Google is another important step in our commitment to advancing surgical care, and together, we aim to put the best science, technology and surgical know-how in the hands of medical teams around the world," Gary Pruden, worldwide chairman of the Global Surgery Group at Johnson & Johnson, said in a news release.

Financial terms were not disclosed for the deal, which is expected to close during the second quarter of 2015.

The part about data analytics is especially interesting. Harnessing data generated from surgical robots is an area of great opportunity, Richard Satava, a robotic surgery pioneer who is an emeritus professor of surgery at the University of Washington, told a gathering at last year's 10X Medical Device Conference in Minneapolis.

There is plenty of growth in robotic surgery, too, with projected growth rates often in the double digits, according to iData Research. Six distinct fields each have leading competitors: spinal robotic assisted surgery, led by Mazor Robotics; neurosurgical RAS, led by Medtech and Renishaw; minimally invasive robotic assisted surgery, led by Intuitive Surgical; robotic radiosurgery, led by Accuray; robotic catheter systems, led by Hanzen Medical; and orthopedic robotic assisted surgery, led by MAKO Surgical Corp.

For its part, Google continues to build its collection of medical-related intellectual property, including a smart contact lens and a nanotech wearable that may treat cancer. Google wouldn't explicitly confirm whether the former patent covers the glucose-sensing contact lens currently being refined by its partner, the Swiss multinational Novartis.

With all this focus on contact lenses, Google put its Google Glass initiative on the back burner in January, removing it from Google[x] laboratories, and halting sales January 20. Still, the company hinted that reports of Google Glass' death were premature. Health care setting are particularly an area where some kind of glasses-type smart device could be helpful. For example, they could allow surgeons to check information without having to turn away from the procedure.

Google appears to be increasing partnering with medical device companies to bring its innovation knowhow to medtech.

Refresh your medical device industry knowledge at BIOMEDevice Boston, May 6-7, 2015.

Chris Newmarker is senior editor of Qmed and MPMN. Follow him on Twitter at @newmarker.

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