The fundamental technology behind the da Vinci Surgical System was originally developed at SRI International, and it's not like they've been sitting around building thumb-twiddling robots since then. Well, not entirely, anyway. This is Taurus, a little manipulator robot that was unveiled to the public for the first time at the National Robotics Week Robot Block Party at Stanford's VAIL automotive research lab.
When I say Taurus is little, it's because the robot was specifically designed to fold itself into a box shape that's a mere 14" wide and 5" tall [36 cm wide and 13 cm tall]. It needs to be so compact because of what its job is: Taurus is meant to be shoved into small spaces in vehicles to detect and defeat vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. It doesn't have wheels or legs or anything like that; instead, it's intended to be mounted directly onto the robotic arm of a Talon or a PackBot, which is an innovative way to go.
This approach makes a lot of sense, because as we've seen, bomb disposal robots aren't always the most, er, graceful of machines. And obviously, this can be a problem when you're working with high explosives. Using Taurus, a bomb disposal technician can see whatever they need to see in high definition 3D, and using haptic feedback gloves, clip the red wire (or the blue wire! no! the red wire!) while remaining at a safe distance. This system works well enough that users even forget that they're working via a robot.
Taurus is a prototype in active development, and systems should be in the field as early as this summer, for a cheap enough price that they should be affordable for people besides the military.
Also on display was SRI's magical wall-climbing robot that manages to stick to anything you want it to stick to using static electricity. Its plastic and carbon tread can generate an electrostatic charge even in non-conductive materials, and the robot then sticks on in the same way that rubbing a balloon against your hair causes it to stick to your head. This works on surfaces that are smooth or rough or covered with dust, and SRI's robots are currently being used in Japan to inspect buildings.