The first surgical robot prototype was developed at SRI International with funding from ARPA, utilizing remote manipulation technology used for radioactive materials. Dr. Phil Green invented the Green Telepresence System, which originally aimed to assist with battlefield surgeries by keeping operators remote and stabilizing soldiers in the field. After Dr. Jacques Perrisat’s presentation of a videotaped laparoscopic cholecystectomy in 1989, Dr. Green refocused his research on enhancing laparoscopic surgery with the aim to reduce risks associated with the complex and risky procedure. The Green Telepresence System demonstrated a combined platform with high-definition stereoscopic vision, enhanced dexterity, tremor reduction, and motion scaling, allowing more surgeons to transition to laparoscopic procedures with reduced risks. ARPA, later renamed DARPA, funded several offshoots of this project for various surgical applications in the military, battlefield surgery, early veterinary and human surgeries, with some prototypes developed and demonstrated at Computer Motion.
In 1995, Drs. John Freund, Fred Moll, and Robert Younge licensed a version of one prototype, called Lenny (an abbreviation of Leonardo), and made several improvements. Lenny was mechanically unstable and was replaced by Mona (named after da Vinci’s Mona Lisa) two years later. Mona had much-improved features, including exchangeable instruments. In March 1997, Mona was used to perform a cholecystectomy on a 72-year-old woman, and a patient-side surgeon had to hold the endoscope since Mona did not support it. Although Mona had some notable flaws, they were addressed in Intuitive’s third revision, called da Vinci. This version underwent successful human trials in Mexico, Germany, and France in 1998, followed by the first commercial sale of da Vinci to the Leipzig Heart Center in Germany later that year.
(Image source: https://blogs.brown.edu/virtualreality/telepresence-for-military-medicine/)