Industry News

The Most Expensive Robots: How Much Do Intelligent Machines Cost?

Maria Shirshova | February 20, 2014

$2.6 million USD for a da Vinci. No, not for a painting of the famous artist, but for a surgical robot, called "da Vinci", which gives surgeons powerful new abilities in the operating room. Let's imagine how does this magical process looks...

A doctor sits at a computer console about 20 feet from his patient lying on the operating table.

As if playing a video game, the doctor manipulates foot pedals and joysticks as he watches the action on a screen, remotely controlling tiny instruments on robotic arms inserted into her patient.

A camera on one of the robot's arms gives the surgeon a greatly magnified 3D view. The swiveling instruments allow him to make more complex, precise moves, than he could accomplish with conventional instruments.

Expensive - yes, but is it effective?

A study, published in the Journal for Healthcare Quality last year, focused on incidents involving da Vinci Robotical System over nearly 12 years, scrubbing through several data bases to find negative outcomes. Researchers found 245 incidents reported to the FDA, including 71 deaths and 174 nonfatal injuries.

There are good arguments for the robot, too.

"You can do things with the robot that you can't do with a laparoscope - or only the world's best surgeon can do," said Dr. Richard Satava, a robotics pioneer at the University of Washington. "It's kind of a democratizing tool, if you will."

Dr. Paul Kozlowski, director of minimally invasive surgery for Virginia Mason Medical Center's urology department, says the surgeon's experience is key: "The bottom line is, it's who does your surgery, not how they do it."

It's clear, we can't rely on a robot "blindly", the human factor is most crucial. And probably it will take time for us not to worry holding our health in a robot's, rather than a human's, hands.

But we are happy to send the robot to places, where we, humans, are too scared to step to for now. A robot given the fearful name of Valkyrie is a one-of-a-kind "big toy" developed by NASA. It was designed to operate in dangerous environments, such as exploring the surface of other planets or performing external repairs at the International Space Station.

Valkyrie is semi-autonomous, meaning that she (yes, NASA gives a gender to robots) receives commands from a human being, then performs those tasks. That includes walking, turning and twisting valves.

Cameras in the chest, forearms, knees and feet help scientists see what's going on and massive battery in her back charges her body.

She is a precious lady - the first model costs 7.6 million USD to build, but NASA expects future copies will cost 2.5 million USD.

$820 million - sounds like a year budget for a country like Canada. But this is the full cost for the 2 rovers of the Mars Rovers Mission by Mars Science Laboratory. The mission's scientific objective was to search for and characterize a wide range of rock and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars.

The coolest part of the Mars Science Laboratory is probably the ChemCam, which "uses laser pulses to vaporize thin layers of material from Martian rocks or soil targets up to 7 meters away". It will determine which atoms respond to the beam, while a telescope shows what the laser illuminates. They'll help the scientists determine which part exactly they'd like the rover to travel to, or pick up. A cool thing from sci-fi movies - to have lasers on robots and for sure, taxpayers don't mind paying for this!

The future is priceless. But each robot has it's own cost, sometimes very high. It's all depending on how high human expectation become.


Marissa Evans
November, 1, 2013

Carol M. Ostrom
July 7, 2012

Mars Science Lab Fact

Marshall Brain, Kate Kershner
April, 10, 2011

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