Grape surgery: What it means for the future of robotics

An old video out of Edward Hospital in Illinois has gone viral for the oddest reason.

Quick Notes:

  • The video shows a surgery being done on a grape. Really.

  • The da Vinci Surgical System was designed to perform intricate surgeries.

  • The virality of the video is cool, but the robotic system is even cooler.

Almost a decade ago, the Edward Hospital in Illinois performed surgery on a grape to showcase their new da Vinci Surgical System. The unique surgery didn’t garner much attention, but then a sequel was filmed by The Peter MacCallum Cancer Center in 2014. It wasn’t until 2018 that the videos were noticed by the masses, and then the tweets, shares, and posts began.

What began as an example of how to do minimally invasive surgery that allowed a patient to avoid big open surgeries and painful recovery times soon spiraled into a pop-culture phenomenon.

The whole video is just surgery on a grape.

The video is a slow-motion viewing of how the robotic arms of the da Vinci Surgical System peel away the skin of the grape and literally do surgery on its insides. The inside of a grape is full of flesh, vascular tissue, and even an embryo. This made for a perfect depiction of surgery without having to use a human cadaver for the demonstration.

In the video, the intricate arms of the robotic machine slowly cut through the skin of the grape, and peel it back layer by layer. The machine is controlled by a skilled surgeon. The video showcases the da Vinci’s skills, and the internet seems to be loving it.

The machine is the DaVinci of robotic surgery.

Back in 1999, Intuitive Surgery designed and manufactured the da Vinci system to assist surgeons in minimally invasive care for patients. A year later, the system became the first robotic surgery aid approved by the FDA for general laparoscopic procedures.

It was designed with both the surgeon and the patient in mind. Giving full control to the surgeon, the da Vinci system offers “enhanced visualization, dexterity, precision, and ergonomic comfort.” They broke the mold to open the door to robotics-based surgeries, and the industry has been growing ever since.

Intuitive

It’s not a run-of-the-mill operation.

In the past, surgeries on various parts of the body were difficult to navigate. With the robotics system, those tight areas are able to be reached with a small incision as opposed to having to open a patient up when a small incision will do the job.

The robotic arms are able to get into places that human hands cannot, and camera functions give the surgeon eyes on even the most hidden areas. The idea of the robotic system is to create a surgery atmosphere that could reduce bleeding and recovery time, as well as opening the door to new procedures that would have otherwise been impossible.

The benefits of robotic surgery are vast, but with it being a relatively new way to do surgical procedures, advancements in the field are needed in order to prevent technical or mechanical failure. Intuitive Surgery continues to innovate and has created a new robotics system that can perform a peripheral lung biopsy.

The technology that was used in the grape surgery doesn’t come cheap, but with more companies hopping onto the robotics train, it’s possible that the future of surgery started a few years ago with a machine, a video camera, and a single grape.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101: