Intuitive Surgical, leading device maker, highlights Raleigh engineering office

Local surgeons and hospital administrators got a chance to test-ride a $2 million surgical robot that has dominated the industry for the past 16 years.

Intuitive Surgical, invited doctors and executives to its new engineering office in Raleigh where it plans to hire up to 30 employees here by the end of 2017.

The medical device maker’s expansion to the Centennial Campus puts the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company in close proximity with a much smaller competitor that has sought to break Intuitive’s near-total domination of the field: TransEnterix, the Morrisville robotics company that earlier this year failed to win federal regulatory approval to sell its SurgiBot device in the United States.

But Rod Vance, Intuitive’s vice-president of secondary markets, engineering and data services, said Intuitive’s expansion and timing is not related to TransEnterix’s ongoing bid to challenge Intuitive’s market dominance. Vance, who worked at Nortel Networks here from 1982 to 2000, said the Triangle excels in technology and medicine, and is close to the company’s East Coast customers.

Intuitive decided in January to open a Raleigh office and hired its first employee in March. Today it has 12 engineers and focuses on enhancing and updating existing products. The company employs about 3,545 worldwide and also has East Coast offices in Georgia, Virginia, Connecticut and Washington, D.C.

Vance said his office has been receiving 30 to 50 applications for each open position category. It is hiring in robotics, software, mechanical and biomedical engineering.

As for TransEnterix, the company is now focused on selling its second robot, Senhance, in Europe. TransEnterix plans to apply for U.S. approval for Senhance as well. TransEnterix has been simultaneously working on two robot technologies, while Intuitive is now in the fourth generation of its da Vinci model.

The da Vinci was on display for visitors at the open house, where doctors and guests were allowed to sit at the operating console and maneuver the robot’s mechanical tentacles on an artificial patient strapped to an adjoining bed.

The da Vinci device has dominated the industry since it was introduced in 2000 and the company has sold 3,745 of the devices worldwide. The da Vinci and Senhance, formerly called the ALF-X, can each cost up to $2 million when fully loaded with accessories and features.

John Murawski: 919-829-8932, @johnmurawski