Robotomy

Doctors are basically the modern equivalent of shamans. They poke us, they prod us, they look inside us with weird, uncomfortable flashlights, and then they give us an incomprehensible ten minute monologue. For all their medical advancements and calculated science, the instant they open their mouths they might as well be talking about rooster entrails and aggrieved fire spirits. Hell, that twisting-snake logo of theirs even looks like a totem. We take it on faith that they know why the fire spirits are mad, and what will appease them. We nod a lot. We sign forms and go home. As a consequence, there's really nothing they can prescribe that will make us flinch. The 21st century patient is prepared for anything.

Doctor: You have hexamalephasia of the carotid lukeplantic ganglia. You: Roger that. Doctor: Eat plenty of beets, rub igneous rock on your thighs, and lift a saxophone over your head after every meal. You: Sounds good.

For example, the last time I saw a doctor we had a brief conversation involving several words of fifteen letters or more, during which he effortlessly convinced me to hold my mouth open for half an hour so that he could jab the inside of my head with syringes and scalpels. Did I flinch? Nope. Well, I might have flinched once or twice from the actual scalpel jabbing, but not from the suggestion that it was a good idea.

It begs the question, is there a point at which we will flinch?

Here I would postulate that A) such a point does exist, and B) it occupies the place in space/time where doctors start telling us to eat robots.

This point may not have occurred yet, but it's coming, and sooner than you might think. Say hello to Ares, the sort-of-but-not-really acronym that's short for Assembling Reconfigurable Endoluminal Surgical System. The theory behind Ares is that invasive procedures increase risk, recovery time, and external scarring. If surgeons can do those same procedures without the cutting open the patient, it would save time, pain, money, kittens, you name it. That means building little robots to access our innards through existing orifices like the navel, and if that sentence didn't make you nervous, you need to go watch "The Matrix" again.

Endoluminal: from the Greek, endo- "internal" or "within," and luminal "droids in my lung"

In short, Ares is a series of botlings that the patient swallows one by one. Once inside, they combine to form some sort of Ph.D. Voltron (the cars, not the lions) and start assisting the surgeon. Different botlings have different tools, so the system can be reconfigured as needed. Oh, and the assembled system looks an awful lot like the face-hugger from "Alien." So, good news there.

Ares was developed at Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, which is either a university in Pisa or a restaurant in Park Slope. It may be both, I'd have to check Urbanspoon. Dr. Arianna Menciassi is one of the biomedical robotics experts heading up the research, and given that she's an Italian scientist with a supervillain name, I can only assume that she is unspeakably sexy.

You can practically hear the accent: "We are working on the real possibility of building a robot inside the person, inside their abdomen or stomach and there would be several module which are very small like pills and that can combine together inside and the idea is to introduce these robots from the mouth or anus or the umbilical. This is the dream."

Well, that's ... not quite as sexy as I was expecting. No offense, Dr. Menciassi, but your dream kind of sounds like the premise of "Saw IX."

The article leaves one question eerily unanswered. What exactly happens to Ares when the surgery is complete? Does it stay in there? Does nature take its course? Do they send even smaller robots in after it? Who performs the robotomy? My guess is that the answer will involve rooster entrails.