OpenSurgery, The Surgery Pirate


The surgical robot first appeared in operating rooms in the mid-eighties and since then has become established as a reliable and necessary presence, enabling more accurate and less invasive interventions for patients and reducing the risk of post-operative infection and healing times. Thanks to a computer and to a system for remote manipulation by a surgeon, the robot is able to reproduce the surgical movements of the human hand through mechanical arms. Currently the company Intuitive Surgical Inc. controls the market in robotic surgery, with more than 2,500 robotic systems sold worldwide. Their flagship product, the da Vinci® system, costs over 3 million USD. This is an exorbitant cost that only adds to the uneven distribution of public health services in which ordinary citizens are often unable to access healthcare and surgery. OpenSurgery, born from the collaboration of many professionals alongside experimental artist and designer Frank Kolkman, investigates the possibility of building DIY surgical robots as a more accessible alternative to expensive professional health services. The project aims to stimulate critical thought in order to challenge the current socio-economic framework. The OpenSurgery robots collide with the thorny issue of healthcare patents, most of which are held by private corporations who received some form of state funding. If these patents, on the one hand, safeguard the valuable work of many people, on the other, they prevent the development of more democratic alternatives. Kolkman presented his project at RCA’s Design Interactions without proposing to actually build a surgical robot ready for use, but demonstrating that there are possibilities to develop cheap, open source alternatives. (Photo Credit: Juuke Schoorl) Benedetta Sabatini

Frank Kolkman – OpenSurgery