Google Inc. is joining forces with Johnson & Johnson to develop a robotic-assisted surgical program, moving into a growing field of medicine as the search-engine giant expands its health-care investments.
The companies will explore ways to add advanced imaging and sensors to surgical tools, helping doctors during operations. The partnership is through the life sciences division of Google X labs, the company's research unit that has funded projects such as self-driving cars.
"We look forward to exploring how smart software could help give surgeons the information they need at just the right time during an operation," Andy Conrad, head of the life sciences team at Google, said in a statement Friday. Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed.
The partnership will help J&J, the world's largest maker of health-care products, build upon the prototype it has already developed for the core of a new robotic surgical system.
"We knew that we needed a partner with a different skill set," said Gary Pruden, worldwide chairman of the global surgery group at J&J, which is based in New Brunswick, N.J. "We're early in the partnership with Google life sciences. I would certainly say we have a multigenerational plan for the development of a fully capable product to bring to the market."
He said the plan is to build a "radically" different product that's more flexible and more cost-effective than what's currently available.
Robotic surgeries have been growing in popularity, and the pact will help J&J better compete against companies such as Intuitive Surgical Inc., a major participant in the industry. Still, such procedures aren't without risks. A 2013 complaint by the Colorado Medical Board alleged patients suffered injuries or complications from robotic surgeries including punctured or torn arteries.