Spider Pill: Wireless Endoscopic Capsule Robot

A free-roaming wireless endoscopic capsule robot has been tested successfully in a pig's intestine. This crawling spider pill has eight legs and occupies just 2.6 cm3 of total volume. The robot can be fully controlled wirelessly by an operator, who guides the device through the intestinal tract based on images obtained from the robot's camera. The intent is to create a device usable for colonoscopy (or similar procedures) on a human being.


(The Spider Pill - an endoscopic capsule robot)

This wireless endoscopic capsule robot is distinguished from earlier "pill cameras" by the fact that the pill cams cannot be guided externally. The operator cannot stop the pill or turn it to take pictures of particular sites of interest; these pill cams rely on peristalsis - muscle contractions that ordinarily move food along during digestion - to propel themselves.


(Endoscopic capsule robot CAD drawing - internal components)

The spider pill capsule robot is just 11.1 mm in diameter and 27 mm long; it matches the dimensions of the FDA-approved camera pills almost exactly. It has 72 parts. The capsule has a maximum speed of 50 mm per minute, which is the authors claim is sufficient to perform an entire colonoscopy in the same time frame as traditional colonoscopy (I know some gastroenterologists who would disagree). The capsule can climb in any direction, including vertically against gravity.

This brief BBC video provides an interview with one of the project members, as well as CAD views of the moving endoscopic camera robot.


(BBC video interview on the wireless endoscopic capsule robot)

Science fiction fans may regard this robot as being similar to the Proteus, the miniaturized ship from the 1966 movie Fantastic Voyage. I was thinking in particular of the ship at one of the intermediate phases of miniaturization; the authors describe this wireless endoscopic capsule robot as being in the "meso-scale" for a device. However, I could only find a picture of the fully reduced Proteus (below).


(Proteus from Fantastic Voyage)

Update: Thanks to readers, here's an early "science-fictional" view of this idea. In Test Pilot, an episode of The Jetson's first broadcast on December 30, 1962, George Jetson goes in for a physical. The doctor uses a special capsule called a "Peek-a-Boo Prober".


(Peek-a-Boo Prober from Jetson's Test Pilot episode)

Here's a close-up:


(Close-up of the Peek-a-Boo Prober from Jetson's Test Pilot episode)

The doctor uses a special Peek-a-Boo Prober launcher to start it on its journey through the patient. Once inside the doctor uses a voice-control interface to instruct the Prober. Take a look at an internal video provided by the Prober to the doctor.


(Peek-a-Boo Prober in stomach episode)

End update.

From An endoscopic capsule robot: a meso-scale engineering case study by Claudio Quaglia, Elisa Buselli, Robert J Webster III, Pietro Valdastri, Arianna Menciassi and Paolo Dario; via Medgadget.

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