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Johnson & Johnson, the expansive health product conglomerate, announced Thursday that it’s partnering with Google to create surgery robots. Yep: robot doctors are happening, and Google’s driving the initiative.

According to the announcement, “the companies seek to develop new robotic tools and capabilities for surgeons and operating room professionals that integrate best-in-class medical device technology with leading-edge robotic systems, imaging and data analytics.”

google-smart-contact-lens
Google’s Smart Contact Lens

While it’s not stated in the announcement, it seems pretty clear that Google will rely on its years of experience working on advanced computer vision, which so far has been most apparent in its autonomous car initiative. Furthermore, the announcement adds that the robots envisioned in this agreement will assist in “minimally invasive surgery.” So don’t go thinking that your heart operation is going to be overseen by Google Now. At least not yet.

For now, the agreement is just in the announcement phase; the collaboration will happen once it clears certain governmental hurdles including the Antitrust Improvements Act. Just what form the collaboration will take as a business transaction—and just why the agreement would need to clear antitrust laws—is also kind of unclear at the moment. A Wall Street Journal article about the announcement speculates that the collaboration could be motivated by Johnson & Johnson’s desire to better compete with a company called Intuitive Surgical, which has made “the da Vinci robot, which enables surgeons to remotely control surgical instruments from a computer console.”

This isn’t the first time Google has gotten involved in healthcare initiatives—far from it. Last July, Google announced its intentions to understand the human body inside and out, with the ultimate goal of creating little robots that will detect and possibly treat cancer cells. Then in January, the Google Life Sciences Team revealed its first steps on the road to making that vision a reality. And let’s not forget about the ongoing work on making those Google Smart Contact Lenses.

[Source: J&J Announcement]


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