In the 1990s, Computer Motion was a leading producer of medical robotics, manufacturing systems such as the HERMES Control Center and the SOCRATES Telecollaboration System. Computer Motion conducted its original research developing the AESOP arm under a NASA SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) contract. NASA funded the research in the hope that derivatives of such technology could help service the Space Shuttle in orbit, working on parts of the shuttle where humans cannot easily access or making other delicate repairs or adjustments.
AESOP was cleared for use by the FDA in 1994, and it became the first robot to assist in a surgery. AESOP's function is to maneuver an endoscope inside the patient's body during the surgery. The camera moves based on voice commands given by the surgeon. Voice activation of the AESOP arm allows the surgeon to position the camera while also controlling the other two arms of the ZEUS system. The endoscope can also be controlled by a computer which allows for more precise movements and also allows the endoscope to be inserted into the patient through a smaller incision (a key component of minimally invasive surgery).
The first prototype of the ZEUS was demonstrated in 1995, and tested on animals in 1996. Two years later, in 1998, it carried out its first tubal re-anastomosis procedure, and its first coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG) procedure. By 2000, the ZEUS was equipped to hold 28 different surgical instruments, and in 2001 it received FDA approval. In 2003, the ZEUS Robot Surgical System was marketed at $975,000. This was slightly cheaper than the competing Da Vinci system, which sold for $1 million.
Computer Motion vs. Intuitive Surgical
By 2000, Computer Motion had filed eight lawsuits against a rival medical robotics company, Intuitive Surgical, for allegedly infringing on Computer Motion's patents relating to robotic surgery.
In March 7, 2003, Computer Motion and Intuitive Surgical merged into a single company. This was partially done to try to end the litigation between the companies, but also to combine their efforts in developing robotic surgical systems to increase the effectiveness of such technology. Soon after merging, the ZEUS was phased out in favor of Intuitive Surgical's Da Vinci system.