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Beth Stackpole
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A helping hand
Beth Stackpole   1/25/2012 6:46:25 AM
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It makes perfect sense that the dexterity and finesse involved in applying robotics to complex and tricky medical procedures could have huge bearing on other applications, particularly those that relate to space. It's difficult (not to mention dangerous and expensive) to put people in space and given gravity issues, those trained professionals don't have the same dexterity and flexibility for motor skills that they otherwise would have on earth. Seems like a natural solution.

Jennifer Campbell
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Re: A helping hand
Jennifer Campbell   1/25/2012 9:48:42 AM
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I agree with you, Beth, but I don't think we should entirely rule out sending humans to space. We need people to fix the machines that may break/inexplicably stop working. Also, and a lot of people may disagree with me here, but I think that human exploration in space can be just as effective, if not more so, than robotic exploration. After all, robots can't think or articulate what they see. While the advances in robotics these days are nothing short of remarkable, there is still something to be said for a human doing the work.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: A helping hand
Beth Stackpole   1/25/2012 10:33:39 AM
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I didn't mean to imply that we shouldn't send humans into space, Jenn. I totally agree with you. I just think for some of the more mundane chores, have an adept set of robot hands to do the work is definitely a more cost-effective way.

Jennifer Campbell
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Re: A helping hand
Jennifer Campbell   1/25/2012 11:31:41 AM
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Agreed. Thanks for clarifying your point, Beth.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: A helping hand
Ann R. Thryft   1/25/2012 1:01:16 PM
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Wow, this story spurred some interesting comments.

Alex, robots as COTS makes total sense to me, having written not long ago for COTS Journal. Thanks for that insight. And as to soldiers being COTS, I nearly fell off my seat laughing, but, you may be right. In any case, I was happy to see NASA making use of existing technology from outside its own sphere that someone else spent the R&D dollars on, another way of defining COTS.

I think Jenn's and Beth's points are also good. Using machines for low-level routine stuff, like servicing, but humans for more difficult troubleshooting makes sense. 


Rob Spiegel
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Re: A helping hand
Rob Spiegel   1/26/2012 2:16:08 PM
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I agree, Beth. This is a great use for robotic capabilities. As well as saving on expense, I would guess it's far quicker to send a machine to do the repair rather than scheduling a human to do the job. As for humans in space, I think humans should take the risk for loftier missions than repair jobs.

Alexander Wolfe
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COTS in Space
Alexander Wolfe   1/25/2012 10:21:52 AM
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It's significant to note that NASA, in the face of the massive budget cuts it's been subjected to over the past several years, is taking a page from the military in moving from build-it-yourself to using COTS. COTS stands for commercial-off-the-shelf systems. It took the military a good 25 years from talking about COTS to actually doing it on a widespread basis. (Of course, now many soldiers themselves are COTS, but that's another story.) Anyway, so it makes lots of sense for NASA to do this, buy and customize rather than build from scratch, which they can't support.

AJ2X
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Re: COTS in Space
AJ2X   1/26/2012 1:51:15 PM
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When I was a young engineer for RCA in the early '70s, my boss consulted with NASA regarding the early ideas for what became the Shuttle.  He said that they were looking to use COTS as much as possible to keep the cost down -- make it a "space truck."  There was a big conflict with making everything "space rated" (i.e., demonstrably very reliable under all possible conditions to assure human safety) and leveraging the considerable cost savings of COTS devices, especially for "non-essential" systems, such as the radios and TV cameras that our RCA division made.  Space-rating won out, and for good reasons.  But it still makes sense to adapt some things like the DaVinci surgical robot (an awesome piece of technology) for mission-specific applications.

The ISI DaVinci robot is primarily a tele-presence system, which is the sort of thing that will be needed more and more to extend human hands into remote and dangerous places.  NASA is our way into those places, at least if it's allowed (and funded) to do its job.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: COTS in Space
Ann R. Thryft   1/26/2012 3:17:44 PM
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AJ2X, that's interesting input about NASA and COTS way back in the 70s. To clarify, the robot missions are for refueling and servicing once something has broken. I would think that, considering how much it costs to send either robots or humans out in space, the problems Island Al describes would be less likely to occur. 


Charles Murray
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Sign of the times
Charles Murray   1/25/2012 7:15:34 PM
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I guess this story is a sign of the times: Instead of technology being developed by the space program and trickling down to other industries, here we have technology being developed for the medical industry and then moving up to the  space program. Nice story, Ann.

sensor pro
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Re: Sign of the times
sensor pro   1/26/2012 10:50:01 AM
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This is a great story. Thanks.

 

I do thisnk that with the slow process of "killing" NASA, this will be the trend in the technology field. I guess when they work on historical reasearch of islamic contribution to space exploration, they spend less time on real technical developments.

 

Dave Palmer
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Re: Sign of the times
Dave Palmer   1/26/2012 11:18:35 AM
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@sensorpro: I know it's been repeated ad infinitum on right wing websites, but can you actually find any evidence that NASA has spent any money on "historical research of Islamic contribution to space exploration"? The most I can find about this is one sentence which a NASA official said in an interview.  I can't find any signs of any actual money being spent on this.

sensor pro
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Re: Sign of the times
sensor pro   1/26/2012 11:28:40 AM
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After you see that thousands of engineers were let go, shuttles retired, serious cuts in funds for NASA tech developments, coupled with statements like I referred to, do you really think that NASA is doing well.

I do not know how much they spend on that, but what concerns me is that do not spend on the real developments.

China does, Russia does, India does, do I need to say more !?

We need to work to invest in our technology in order to return to being a tech superpower and get jobs for our engineers that spent so much of their lives to study and advance themselves, and not to play with polytical corectness.

Even if we spend $1.00 on that stuff, it is $1.00 too much.

Dave Palmer
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Re: Sign of the times
Dave Palmer   1/26/2012 11:59:04 AM
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@sensorpro: I definitely agree with you about spending cuts.  But NASA actually has quite a few interesting missions going on, even if nobody seems to be paying much attention to them in the news.  The Curiosity rover, which is scheduled to land on Mars this summer, is one of them.  And if you read NASA Tech Briefs, you can see that NASA is continuing to make numerous technological advances, to say nothing of the tremendous amount of scientific data which NASA missions generate.  No other country is doing anything like this.

sensor pro
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Re: Sign of the times
sensor pro   1/26/2012 12:10:55 PM
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I agree that they still do some development, but....

My firm worked with NASA on a few nice projects in the past. One was Camera orientation for the two Mars Rowers. Another one was some special sensors on the fuel tanks for each shuttle, etc...

I see a serious change in the negative direction. It is a shame that we waste so much money on "garbage" and do not invest what we should in the technological future.  We have so much tallant. It is a shame. This is all i wanted to say.

We are basically on the same page.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Sign of the times
Ann R. Thryft   1/26/2012 12:24:54 PM
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Thanks, Chuck  this was a fun one. Re funding, like me, you may remember the Cold War/Sputnik days when it was the mil/aero sector that developed all the high-end new electronics and other "high" tech which then moved down to the commercial sector, as there was not yet a huge consumer electronics sector. Those days are long gone. Now the moneyed sectors seem to be consumer and medical.


Island_Al
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Gold
Fixing satellites
Island_Al   1/26/2012 2:51:29 PM
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I have said for years that the reason satellites work so well is that techs can not touch them.  No tweaking, no adjustments, no hands on work.  We start sending remote control techs into space we will once again have stuff broken high in the sky.  My old credo: Design it right the first time and you don't need techies mucking in the equipment breaking things.  My designs normally never include relays, switches, pots. electrolytic caps, or buttons and I grew up around such things. They do include a smattering of test points or muxes to remotes to prevent anyone from shorting out pins.  Currently I manage a group of techies and yes, they still are the major cause of equipment damage.

 

TJ McDermott
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Re: Fixing satellites
TJ McDermott   1/26/2012 4:45:18 PM
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Island Al, the solar arrays on the space station were designed for automatic extension and furling.  Yet one of them broke during the process.  The repairs executed by humans on STS120 to fix it could not have been done easily by robots.  I'm hesitant to say never be done by robots.

Humans fixed it, with on-hand materials, in just a couple of hours.

The rotary joints for the solar arrays also needed repairs.  Humans fixed it; a robotic repair probably could not have executed it

I'l give you the rebuttals to these human successes; when a tool bag containing grease guns for that same joint repair got away from an astronaut on STS126.  Or on Apollo 16, where an astronaut's foot got caught in a cable, yanking it out at the connector and thus ruining an extrodinarily expensive experiment.

Humans can pull success from the jaws of utter defeat, and can cost incalculable damage from a simple pratfall.  Overall, the successes outweigh the oops in space.  I'll take a human over robot any day.

Island_Al
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Re: Fixing satellites
Island_Al   1/29/2012 9:59:06 AM
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The solar panel furling problem was a design problem, as are most of the problems encountered.  I laughed when the crew lost their grease gun bag, thinking why on earth (a pun) would they design a joint that would require adding grease? Here in the ground we use grease not so much for lubrication, but to prevent moisture entry and oxydation. In space a PTFE bearings would seem like a no brainer as I have often used them in aircraft bearings with good results in areas that the FAA rules do not apply.  I think that non-engineers make too many decisions based on time and costs that reflect poorly back to the enineering staff.  Prior to every flight mission I advise my crew "Don't break anything, don't even touch anything, and please try to keep it out of the ocean!"  And to my ground crews I add "Don't just do something, just stand there (and think about what you are observing before you act)".

A word about NASA Mission Control. Yes they were experts in their various subsystems, but contrary to popular myth, they did not know everything about everything.  Some were engineers but others were well trained operators. In my experience, engineers make very poor operators.  It may possibly be due to boredom or perhaps their minds drift toward improving what they are looking at rather than being aware of the content of what they are looking at.  On top of that, telemetry often lies.  This again can be traced back to design problems and most design problems can be traced back to time and money.  It seems to all be circular.

I too will side with humans, just not all of them universally.  Some humans should never touch tools at all.  Many lack "psi". Some can destroy a cast iron ball with nothing more than a powder puff.  I think of them as being negativly gifted.

 

George Leopold
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Re: Fixing satellites
George Leopold   1/26/2012 8:41:01 PM
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Reminds me of what Gus Grissom told the McDonnell Douglas engineers before his Mercury-Redstone launch 50 years ago (paraphrasing). "I'm going home for this weekend so don't touch anything on the spacecraft and let's launch this sucker next week." They didn't, his mission was perfect, but the exploding hatch malfunction and he almost drowned. (Someone screwed up at the MD factory.)

 

The other relevant example of "keeping it simple" was the the ascent engine on the lunar module: no pumps, no valves, you couldn't test it, it had to work or you were dead. It worked every time.

Charles Murray
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Re: Fixing satellites
Charles Murray   1/26/2012 10:17:37 PM
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Gus was quite the interesting speaker, George. My favorite Gus Gruff-ism was his comment at the Convair plant after he was asked to give a speech prior to his first space flight. His speech consisted of four words: "Well...do good work." 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Fixing satellites
Ann R. Thryft   1/27/2012 11:37:55 AM
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George, your stories make me wonder if things could work less well when designed for servicing by robots instead of humans. I mean, if it had to work or you, a human, were dead, then perhaps there might be a lessening of standards for robot-serviced equipment, since robots being damaged are more acceptable. I hope that's not true.


William K.
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Surgical robots repair a satellite
William K.   1/26/2012 6:26:19 PM
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That is an interesting assertion about the "techies" being the source of most damage. MY guess is that those who are guilty are both overpaid and underqualified. Repairs should really be handled by a "rocket scientist" because at that distance it really is "rocket science". What I mean is that just like in the early days of our space programs, those folks sitting at the consoles in mission control knew and understood every single bit of their system. Every bit of it was in their head, so they would instantly be able to understand a problem. That is one huge difference from those who are mostly qualified to fix car stereos.

The problem that I do see as very big with robot repair workers is the lack of strength and compliance. The robot would need to have the correct wrench, an astronaut could use a channel-locks wrench and handle a fitting that was a bit off centered. ON the other hand, it certainly should be possible to create a robot that could do most repairs. OF course, it will be bigger and stronger than a minimum capabilities package, and cost a bit more as well.

Alexander Wolfe
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Re: Surgical robots repair a satellite
Alexander Wolfe   1/26/2012 7:47:27 PM
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It's relevant to note that repairs in space often cost more (or cost a high percentage) of the original cost of the equipment). Think Hubble Space Telescope, though the scope of the original error (a bad mirror) makes this an outlier. Anyway, this means design for repairability or redundancy is or should be a requirement for space, except there's the factor that weight reduction is a higher priority and designing for redundancy by definition adds weight. So it's an insoluable technical tautology, at least in a lingustic sense. (The robot discussed in this story do provide something of a solution, a la both the COTS cost savings I commented on earlier and the lessening of the requirement for human intervention.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Surgical robots repair a satellite
Ann R. Thryft   1/27/2012 11:37:01 AM
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That's an interesting point you bring up about cost, Alex. The webpage that describes NASA's Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office's Notional Robotic Servicing Mission, which my story discusses, specifically mentions costs. But the costs it describes are those of junking a defense, communication, science, or weather monitoring satellite altogether vs servicing it with robots. That seems to imply that the cost of making and sending a satellite far outweighs the cost of servicing it with a robot. So I would bet that those high servicing costs are from sending humans.


naperlou
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Re: Surgical robots repair a satellite
naperlou   2/3/2012 8:50:07 AM
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Ann, the cost of those satellites is enormous.  Frankly, the sending of a human mission may still be worth it, if the government could bet its programs back together. 

I worked on some of the satelites that are in low earth orbit as well as geosync.  A price tag of $1.5B for a single satelite is not undheard of. Many of these were part of a constellation. 

Of course, one of the issues of the space program is funding.  I worked on the Space Station Program for a large aerospace contractor in the mid 1980s.  I worked with people who had worked on it ten years priior.  It was finally launched at least ten years after I worked on it.  Believe me, there was not that much change in between in the design. 

There is an issue with servicing a satelite in geosync orbit that, from the article, is not fully resolved.  That is one communications engineers run into with satellites, namely latency.  The distances over which the robots would be operated require an approach different from that used in terrestial systems. 

The concept at the time I worked on these things was to bring the geosync satellites into low earth orbit where the shuttle or space station could provide a platform to work on them using robot and human resources. 

Let's just say that this is not a done deal.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Surgical robots repair a satellite
Ann R. Thryft   2/3/2012 12:21:15 PM
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naperlou, thanks for weighing in on satellite costs. That's about what I thought. Although the webpage that describes NASA's Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office's Notional Robotic Servicing Mission, which my story discusses, does imply that satellites cost a lot, no dollar amounts are given.
You've got a good point about latency. That, and other things, made me wonder just how much can really be tested here on terra firma for remotely operating robots in space.
Of course, this is at the very beginning of the research project and was simply an initial demo, so we don't know what's planned for later in the process. I agree it's not a done deal.

Flago
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Iron
Medical robot used in near space
Flago   1/28/2012 12:39:17 PM
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When I had seen the advertisements for the movie {I Robot}, I thought that the still photos in the cleverly designed movie add, were an advertisement for a real android. "I had tried looking this up on the net"!

There are two factors in the use of this kind of robot. Since this is a machine man reference, there are always the unforeseen problems such as a piece of equipment getting in the way, that only a human could handle. This situation, or an unforeseen difficulty that would block a more simplistic robot_?

This society for some self-paranoid reason has not elected to design and build its first rentable by lease home anthropomorphic robots?

I feel that to where robots are nice and "in this case it's really a man to machine inference", that a better robotic ,"like us", company start should at this point be in the works for both developers and potential customers.

You still need mankind in near space to fill the gaps where a faulty situationed robot falls short. 

D.J. B computer technician and designer

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Medical robot used in near space
Ann R. Thryft   1/31/2012 1:06:55 PM
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I think those are good points about difficulties caused by the need to use telemetry. However, if the machine vision is good enough to do surgery with by a remote operator, it may well be good enough to give enough feedback to the human operator on earth so that, for example, a piece of equipment in the way would be relatively simple for the robot to negotiate. It's also poissible, if not likely, that the equipment needing reapir is or will be designed with all that in mind.


vimalkumarp
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Gold
Surgical Robots Could Fix NASA Satellite
vimalkumarp   2/8/2012 10:41:58 PM
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Normal trend is to use the high technology developed for space application for solving common man's problems. Here the role reversal which clearly shows the importance of linking different domains of knowledge.

Ann R. Thryft
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Blogger
Re: Surgical Robots Could Fix NASA Satellite
Ann R. Thryft   2/9/2012 12:58:03 PM
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That's an interesting comment, vimalkumarp. I agree about the need to better link different different knowledge domains. But I think it's been awhile, at least in the US, since mil-aero was the source domain for new electronics tech, although that may have shifted in the last few years. For some time now, since the rise of the consumer sector, it seems like most of the technology platforms have come from there, since that's where most of the R&D dollars were going. Perhaps this has been different in the area of robotics.


vimalkumarp
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Gold
Surgical Robots Could Fix NASA Satellite
vimalkumarp   2/9/2012 1:27:25 PM
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I agree with your brilliant observation. It also shows the power and efficacy of the Da Vinci robotic surgery system

BuzzBodhi
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Iron
What goes around comes around
BuzzBodhi   3/19/2012 2:46:06 PM
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I'm used to reading about how the space program has benefitted medical research and development.  Now we see these benefits coming around full circle.

Ann R. Thryft
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Blogger
Re: What goes around comes around
Ann R. Thryft   3/19/2012 3:04:29 PM
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BuzzBodhi, I remember those days, too. But it's been awhile, and now there's a lot more funding for medical research, plus way more OTS technology software and hardware platforms. I agree, this looks like a circling back of technology development.


CraigJohnson
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Iron
DaVinci expands its place in the world
CraigJohnson   3/19/2012 7:41:07 PM
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In November of 2009 I underwent prostate cancer surgery. The DaVinci robot was the instrument used to perform the surgery.

More than two years later I feel great and without a trace of cancer. I suspect if the robot is nimble enough to perform prostate surgery, satellites in need of repair  shouldn't have much to worry about.

Ann R. Thryft
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Blogger
Re: DaVinci expands its place in the world
Ann R. Thryft   3/20/2012 12:58:09 PM
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Craig, thanks for sharing your experience. That's a good reminder of the precision these robots are capable of.




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