Bright Idea: Mimic Technologies

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Robotic surgery has become a booming industry. Machines such as the da Vinci Surgical System allow surgeons to use external controls to perform many operations far less intrusively than by hand.

But there is one major flaw to the system. The robots are so expensive, costing as much as $20 million each, that hospitals are reluctant to spare the machines for the costly 150 to 200 practice surgeries on pigs that it takes to become proficient with the system.

Enter Mimic Technologies. The Seattle-based company has developed a simulator that allows surgeons to practice as often as they want, perfecting their techniques and even taking refresher courses if they’ve been on vacation and haven’t used one for a while.

Mimic Technologies’ simulator uses the same controls as the da Vinci machine, but their actions are reflected in real time through a highly realistic display on a high-definition computer screen. “It’s hard to learn to drive a car while listening to a GPS system,” says Mimic CEO Jeff Berkley. “You can’t listen if you’re so worried about your pedals and your stick shift.”

Mimic has made two types of surgery simulators that train surgeons in eight different skills—from needle control to camera use. The machines score surgeons based on their proficiency. Mimic recommends hospitals use the score to determine if a surgeon is ready to use a robotic system to operate on a patient.

The Mimic system reduces hospital costs by reducing errors in surgery, cutting wear and tear on the expensive machines and making the machines more available for use in revenue-generating surgery instead of practice.

Mimic Technologies has worked closely with Intuitive Technology, maker of the da Vinci robotic system, to perfect its simulator. More than 80 percent of da Vinci buyers also buy the Mimic simulator. The company expects revenues this year to hit $10 million, up from $6.4 million last year. With about 2,700 hospitals worldwide using surgical robots, the company figures the total simulator market will eventually become saturated. But Mimic’s opportunities could expand significantly in the distant future if, as Berkley envisions, world-class surgeons start performing surgery in battlefields or other remote areas using robotic devices.

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