Altera programmable logic supplier for da Vinci surgical robot

San Jose 10 May 2001Intuitive Surgical Inc., specialised in precision surgical robotics, has selected programmable logic technology from Altera Corporation for its da Vinci Surgical System. This computer-assisted tool provides a surgeon with the intuitive control, range of motion, 3D visualisation characteristic, and fine tissue manipulation capability of open surgery, while at the same time allowing the surgeon to perform minimally invasive surgery through tiny 8-mm incisions.


Altera programmable logic devices (PLDs) made it possible for Intuitive Surgical to rapidly complete the development of the breakthrough product and begin clinical trials, and in July 2000, the da Vinci Surgical System was cleared by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for commercial use. The da Vinci Surgical System continues to be the only complete robotic surgical system to have achieved this regulatory hurdle.

"Attempting to bring a system concept as advanced as the da Vinci Surgical System to market in such a relatively short period made it imperative that we align closely with a programmable logic supplier", stated Mike Tierney, the da Vinci system's hardware architect. "We determined several requirements for our supplier, including a broad, high-quality product line with many options for device speed, density, operating voltage, and packaging; a stable set of co-ordinated development tools for design entry, simulation, and verification; a competitive pricing with an excellent track record for delivery; and device in-system programmability for field updates. According to our evaluation, only Altera excelled in each of these requirements."

The da Vinci Surgical System incorporates over 20 unique programmable logic-based designs implemented by over 40 Altera devices that perform or contribute to nearly every real time function necessary for precise, reliable, and safe operation. Rob Younge, Intuitive's chief technology officer and co-founder explained: "These proprietary designs were conceived and implemented wholly within Intuitive Surgical, and were not part of any initial technology transfer at Intuitive's inception. In no small part, the choice of Altera helped enable this intense hardware development effort to succeed under the strict time constraints we set. Without Altera, the hardware development effort would not have matched the timeline for the remaining deliverables that did benefit from our initial licensing agreements."

"The da Vinci Surgical System represents the kind of innovative, ground-breaking technology that PLDs can help realise quickly despite high degrees of complexity and rigorous requirements", noted Tim Colleran, vice president of product marketing for Altera. "We are very pleased that our products enabled the rapid development of da Vinci, not only for the first-to-market success it brings Intuitive Surgical but also for the significant medical benefits which are now available as a result."

Altera Corporation was founded in 1983 and is a supplier of programmable logic devices (PLDs). Altera's CMOS-based (Complementary Metal Oxide Silicon) PLDs are user-programmable semiconductor chips that enhance flexibility and reduce time-to-market for companies in the communications, computer peripheral, and industrial markets. By using high performance devices, software development tools, and sophisticated intellectual property cores, system-on-a-programmable-chip (SOPC) solutions can be created with embedded processors, memory, and other complex logic together on a single PLD.

Since its inception in November 1995, Intuitive Surgical has engaged in the development and commercialisation of products that are designed to provide the flexibility of open surgery while operating through tiny ports. The firm believes that its technology enables surgeons to perform better surgery while giving patients the benefits of minimally invasive surgery, such as decreased trauma and post-operative pain, reduced surgical complications, and shorter hospital stays. The da Vinci Surgical System and EndoWrist instruments were introduced in 1999. More news about da Vinci's potential is available in the VMW April 2001 article Thoroscopic surgery robots now FDA-approved for use in United States hospitals.

Leslie Versweyveld

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