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February 3, 1999

Fine-Dexterity Surgical Robotics Company is Newest Resident of Sandia Science and Technology Park

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- MicroDexterity, a company launched by an eye surgeon who needed a robotic device that would eliminate any tremors in the hands of surgeons performing critically delicate procedures, has become the third company to establish operations at the Sandia Science and Technology Park.

The park is being developed by the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories to attract high-tech companies that could benefit from cooperative research with organizations along the New Mexico Technology Corridor stretching from Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratory in the northern half of the state to Las Cruces in the south.

Dr. Steve Charles, who also has degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering, says he picked the park location to be near Sandia's Robotics Manufacturing, Science, and Engineering Laboratory (RMSEL), which he describes as "absolutely the best robotics facility in the world."

He adapted his surgical dexterity enhancement system from the concepts of a fine-dexterity robot developed with Sandia to disassemble nuclear weapons.

"This is exactly the kind of company we planned on attracting to the research park," said Sandia Vice President Dan Hartley. "And it's coming here for exactly the reasons we thought the park would be attractive to that kind of company."

MicroDexterity, now in temporary quarters, will build its own facility at the park, to provide space for designers and others performing cooperative work with Sandia.

Charles' original quest has led to a number of patents and patent disclosures along the way and produced the master-slave dexterity-enhancement device that not only eliminates human hand tremor, but makes the already-delicate instruments used in cardiovascular and neurological surgery weightless to the surgeons wielding them.

But the work that has produced surgical dexterity enhancement machines has also produced ideas that improve functions in other areas.

One soda can-size device developed by the company has applications in nuclear weapons stockpile work and designers are working with Ford Motor Company to apply MicroDexterity technology to larger intelligent machines that will assemble automatic transmissions.

Pat Eicker, director of Sandia's Robotics and Intelligent Systems Division, says Charles represented the medical industry during the Needs Workshop that was part of the opening of RMSEL in 1996.

"He brings together two things that are very important to groups like ours," says Eicker. "He's the end user, but he can also understand the importance of the engineering that's needed to solve complex robotics problems. We're fortunate to have a relationship with a person like that."

Also attending the Needs Workshop were representatives from Ford, who were evaluating systems that could assemble automatic transmissions. "Steve was able to make the mental connection between work that we'd been doing with him on eye surgery and what Ford wanted to do," says Eicker. "He's extremely valuable in that he sees . . . connections that others don't see, and makes things happen, as a result."

The company, which has 15 employees, expects to finish development of its primary product by the end of the year and begin selling it in 2000.

Two other companies are already in operation in the Sandia Science and Technology Park.

  • EMCOREwest, which manufactures solar power cells for satellites and expects to eventually employ about 250 people, moved into its new 50,000-square-foot building in October.

  • CSTI, a communications company involved in software development and remote control and monitoring (primarily for government agencies), moved into leased space in January. Small now, it projects an eventual work force of 130 to 150.

Sandia is a multiprogram DOE laboratory, operated by a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major research and development responsibilities in national security, energy, and environmental technologies and economic competitiveness.

Media contact:
Howard Kercheval, hckerch@sandia.gov, (505) 844-7842

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