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Anthony Fernando Of Asensus Surgical On The Future of Robotics Over the Next Few Years

An Interview With David Leichner

Innovation, perseverance, out-of-the-box thinking, empathy and creativity are crucial soft skills that any person in the robotics industry, or medical industry for that matter, should possess. The robotics-assisted surgical industry improves lives, and there is a constant need for further innovations and changes to keep that momentum going. Being able to think like a surgeon or relate to patients only helps further our mission to improve people’s lives worldwide.

With the shortage of labor, companies are now looking at how robots can replace some of the lost labor force. See here for example. The truth is that this is not really a novel idea, as companies like Amazon have been using robots for a while now. What can we expect to see in the robotics industry over the next few years? How will robots be used? What kinds of robots are being produced? To what extent can robots help address the shortage of labor? Which jobs can robots replace, and which jobs need humans? In our series called “The Future Of Robotics Over The Next Few Years” we are talking to leaders of Robotics companies, AI companies, and Hi-Tech Manufacturing companies who can address these questions and share insights from their experience. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony Fernando.

As President and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Fernando sets the company’s overall strategic vision and oversees its organic growth. Previously, he was the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Technology Officer at Asensus, where he led the company’s technology strategy and global business operations.

Prior to Asensus, Mr. Fernando was Vice President of Innovation and Technology within the International Group at Stryker Corporation, across Stryker’s medical device portfolio. Before joining Stryker, Mr. Fernando held positions at Becton Dickinson & Company as Director, R&D Devices & Global Health, Greater Asia; PerkinElmer Inc. as Director, R&D and CoE Leader in Asia; and Varian, Inc. as Director of Operations/General Manager of the Pharmaceutical Products business unit.

Mr. Fernando earned an MBA from the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and MS and BS in Mechanical Engineering with concentrations in Robotics and Automation from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

At the core, I am an engineer, innovator, and a problem solver. As a graduate student at UNLV, I worked on a project for the US DOE (Department of Energy) to design and build a robot to monitor nuclear waste at the proposed Yucca Mountain site. This is where my career began. I have also been fortunate to work and live in the US, Asia, and Europe over the past 20+ years. As a result, I am an innovative, solutions-oriented engineer; and technology, product development, and organizational leadership and transformation are my areas of expertise. I apply these skills, focusing on the creation of breakthrough products and the commercialization of these products from concept to market and building sustainable global teams.

My vision as a leader at Asensus is to grow and strengthen our team with strong ideas that push boundaries and reimagine what’s possible for the future of surgery. When you think about other industries (automotive, consumer, industries, etc.) where robotics and automation technology are adopted, we consistently see three trends: productivity increasing, quality improving, and cost decreasing. However, when we look at healthcare and the adoption of robotics in surgery, these value drivers don’t hold true. Why is that? I believe this needs to change. We are focused on making this a reality in surgery with the adoption of robotics manipulation and the adoption of digital technologies such as augmented intelligence and machine learning to democratize surgery and technology adoption in surgery.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives, but the species that is best able to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”

This quote resonates with me because I firmly believe that we need to be adaptable to situations, people, and processes we are faced with every day. And if we embrace differences and change with an open mind, I believe that we will be able to do great things every day and in every situation.

I have used this same philosophy in my day-to-day life. Not just as a leader, but in my personal life as well.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

I am excited to lead a group of future-driven innovators and the first company that has brought augmented intelligence and machine learning into soft tissue abdominal surgery. Over the last year, we’ve obtained regulatory clearances from the FDA, to boost machine vision capabilities on the Intelligent Surgical Unit (ISU), used with our Senhance Surgical System for digital laparoscopy. Our vision is to evolve traditional laparoscopy and robotic surgery by digitizing the interface between the surgeon and the patient and incorporating the power of digital tools to provide real-time clinical intelligence to shape a new era of surgery — Performance-Guided Surgery.

How do you think this might change the world?

Digital laparoscopy and the future of Performance-Guided Surgery has the power to democratize surgery and level the playing field for surgeons. Rather than “leveling up” the skill of the surgeon through pure mechanical enablement, digital technology provides more insight as to where the surgeon is or going to be in a few dimensions: digital technology can learn the surgeon’s preferences and two: it can leverage the knowledge, skills, and best practices from best-in-class surgeons everywhere to apply those learnings in practice. Consider what was once a huge learning curve with respect to human anatomy and the complications that any one patient might have, but digital technology provides an ability to “learn” in real-time from the field of surgeons’ skills. There are very talented surgeons and robotic surgeons, but if you look at the classic distribution curve, there are elite players with skills that aren’t replicable across the board. Performance-Guided Surgery changes this.

What are the three things that most excite you about the robotics industry? Why?

A few years ago, there was an over-focus on the surgical robot itself, and now we’re starting to see the market mature to focus on reducing the cognitive load on the surgeon and the physical load. It’s exciting to be part of the industry moving past robotics to focus on the performance and the build-up to a new approach to digital surgery. With digital surgery, it’s leveraging the technology behind robotics, but building on that with augmented intelligence and machine learning to amplify the intelligence surgeons can receive before, during, and after surgery. Technology allows surgeons to rely solely on their knowledge and experience to take the mental load off the clinician to drive better decision-making through AI or machine learning. These cognitive support elements bring a lot of potential to add value in terms of reducing complications and variability for the patient.

I mentioned leveling the playing field for surgeons, and this is another area we’re most excited about — the ability to leverage the best surgical practices in complicated situations and even, at some point, predict the unexpected.

Finally, a huge emphasis has been placed on improving the patient experience and reducing healthcare budgets across the board, which Performance-Guided Surgery responds to in a few different ways. Performance-Guided Surgery mimics traditional laparoscopy technology and has a familiar interface so the training burden is lower, a lower learning curve, and it’s much easier to adopt. It is also the first platform to offer 3 mm instruments (the smallest instrument available in the world on a robotic surgical platform) that presents another advantage previously unavailable in the robotics market, allowing for reduced invasiveness and patient cosmesis. And the application of standard reusable instruments keeps costs similar to traditional laparoscopy instruments, resulting in a cost per procedure almost half the cost of current robotic systems.

As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the potential to pose a danger to humanity in the future. What is your position about this?

At Asensus, w​e’re very strong in our belief that the future of Performance-Guided Surgery does not replace a surgeon or the human experience, rather it elevates a surgeon’s skill and performance. We are laying the foundation to prove to the surgeon community that digital technology will advance their field and elevate the art and mastery of their skill while providing an edge to help their cognitive fatigue.

My expertise is in product security, so I’m particularly interested in this question. In today’s environment, hackers break into the software running the robotics, for ransomware, to damage brands, or for other malicious purposes. Based on your experience, what should manufacturing companies do to uncover vulnerabilities in the development process to safeguard their robotics?

Security is a priority focus area across many industries with a technological component and one that should never be overlooked. Where security becomes a higher topic of concern in relation to robotics-assisted technology is the case of teleoperated procedures, where the surgeon is controlling a robot in one location and the surgery is physically performed in another location. Our robotic platform is not a ‘connected’ device given the criticality of the tasks it performs on patients, but it does have proprietary data transfer capabilities within the OR and then to the cloud in a secure manner where the threats of intrusions can be significantly reduced or eliminated. As the leader of Asensus, I work with industry experts on an ongoing basis to ensure we are up to speed on the latest cybersecurity threats. I am aware that the threat of targeted ransomware is an area of concern and am adamant that the targeted ransomware cybersecurity attacks that took down automation operations in 2020 will not be replicated.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The Robotics Industry?

Innovation, perseverance, out-of-the-box thinking, empathy and creativity are crucial soft skills that any person in the robotics industry, or medical industry for that matter, should possess. The robotics-assisted surgical industry improves lives, and there is a constant need for further innovations and changes to keep that momentum going. Being able to think like a surgeon or relate to patients only helps further our mission to improve people’s lives worldwide.

As you know, there are not that many women in this industry. Can you advise what is needed to engage more women in the robotics industry?

Like many STEM-related fields, we have seen an increase in female representation across the years, but there is still room for much improvement. At Asensus, we are proud to say that one-third of our management team is comprised of women, 14% women in R&D and 32% in the company globally. And we’d like to see that number continue to grow as we help encourage more candidates to the robotics field. We believe the way to accomplish this is through diligent and purposeful mentorships and encouraging our own leaders to help inspire others.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

My vision is to help our healthcare system, and more specifically hospitals, reduce costs and improve clinical outcomes of surgery through value-driven healthcare. Today, you have more computing power in your smartphone than in the operating room, this has to change and we can make this happen. Fueled by technological advances, the introduction of digital laparoscopy has allowed hospitals to benefit from cost savings and patients to benefit from faster recovery times. But by bringing augmented intelligence into the operating room and surgery, effectively digitizing the interface between the patient and surgeon, the next frontier of surgery is upon us — Performance-Guided Surgery.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

We encourage readers to follow us and our leaders on social media to stay up to date with the latest and greatest across — not only our company (Asensus.com) — but our industry.

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.

About The Interviewer: David Leichner is a veteran of the Israeli high-tech industry with significant experience in the areas of cyber and security, enterprise software and communications. At Cybellum, a leading provider of Product Security Lifecycle Management, David is responsible for creating and executing the marketing strategy and managing the global marketing team that forms the foundation for Cybellum’s product and market penetration. Prior to Cybellum, David was CMO at SQream and VP Sales and Marketing at endpoint protection vendor, Cynet. David is the Chairman of the Friends of Israel and Member of the Board of Trustees of the Jerusalem Technology College. He holds a BA in Information Systems Management and an MBA in International Business from the City University of New York.

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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David Leichner, CMO at Cybellum

David Leichner, CMO at Cybellum

David Leichner is a veteran of the high-tech industry with significant experience in the areas of cyber and security, enterprise software and communications

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