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Virginia FIRST Teams Learn About Robots In The O.R.

Students on FIRST robotics teams are accustomed to learning how robots improve industrial processes and advance the frontiers of space exploration. But this year, participants at the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Virginia Regional heard a less familiar but still compelling message: that robots can improve medical outcomes and enhance recovery for patients who undergo surgery.

The messenger has firsthand experience. Dr. Eliseo Bautista specializes in minimally invasive surgery at St. Mary’s Hospital, part of the Bon Secours Richmond Health System, and uses advanced technology from the da Vinci Robotic Surgical System.

“They didn’t have a robotics program when I was in high school,” Bautista told the crowd gathered for the 2015 robotics tournament at VCU’s Siegel Center. “Now I use robotics every day to help people recover from illness and enjoy better lives.”

“I was already interested in a career in health care, now I want to learn more,” said Shannon Hunter, a member of FRC team “Hokieguard” from Blacksburg.

Hunter and Jarice Mason from FRC Team “A.R.T.” from the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School in Petersburg escorted Dr. Bautista at the tournament as he met with robotics teams from across Virginia.

“I’m excited that FIRST introduces students to new ideas, and that the program offers amazing scholarship opportunities,” said Mason.

Dr. Bautista was impressed by what he saw at the FIRST robotics event, hosted by VirginiaFIRST and its sponsors. “The complexity of the engineering, the electronics and computer programming that goes into it; all those pieces that come together are amazing and I really admire these kids. One day, these students might design the next generation of robots that we use in the operating room,” Bautista added.

Using a minimally invasive approach the da Vinci Robotic Surgical System can replace large-incision abdominal surgeries on many procedures. Benefits to the patient include less scarring, less blood loss, less risk of infection, fewer complications, and faster recovery, compared to traditional surgery. The robot translates surgeon’s hand movements into smaller, more precise movements of tiny instruments inside the patient’s body.

To learn more about FIRST programs in Virginia for middle and high school students, visit

To learn about FIRST programs in Virginia for students in grades K-6, visit

Article by Jim Babb for VirginiaFIRST