Robotic surgery pushes the frontiers of innovation in healthcare technology towards improved clinical outcomes. We discuss the evolution to five generations of robotic surgical platforms including stereotactic, endoscopic, bioinspired, microbots on the millimetre scale, and the future development of autonomous systems. We examine the challenges, obstacles and limitations of robotic surgery and its future potential including integrated real-time anatomical and immune-histological imaging and data assimilation with improved visualisation, haptic feedback and robot-surgeon interactivity. We consider current evidence, cost-effectiveness and the learning curve in relation to the surgical and anaesthetic journey, and what is required to continue to realise improvements in surgical operative care. The innovative impact of this technology holds the potential to achieve transformative clinical improvements. However, despite over 30 yr of incremental advances it remains formative in its innovative disruption.