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Friday, May 08, 2009

Robot of the Day: Microswimmer Robot Taking Pictures of Your Intestines

This is a robot I read about recently, a robot the size of a pill that can swim inside your body powered by external MRI machine's magnetic fields with the task of taking pictures of your intestines.

Credit: Tel Aviv University and Brigham & Women's Hospital
The robot was developed by scientists at Tel Aviv University in Israel and Brigham & Woman's Hospital in Boston and introduced in a recent paper published in Biomedical Microdevices. Although still in the early testing stage in a water tank, the tiny robot seems to maneuver well with its 20mm x 5mm tail. The eventual objective of robot is to enable doctors to see the inside of a patient's intestines and detect early stages of gastrointestinal cancer.

Presently doctors can already have patients swallow a pill-sized camera. Pictures are taken every half second or so until the camera is passed. However, doctors have no control of the camera's movement when they wanted pictures of specific part of the body. One challenge with the robot idea is how to power the robot because embedding large power supplies would increase the size of the robot and cause other problems. The beauty of the proposed solution is that it uses magnetic field to control the movement of the robot via the little copper and polymer tail. And since MRI machines are already a common device in hospitals, they can become very handy.

I remember seeing a video of how live bacterias can be controlled by magnetic fields to push around a "nano-robot" in a Discovery Channel documentary. In this case, the magnetic field controls the robot directly which is probably more predictable than trying to control bacterias.

Some people even suggest that we can leave such robots inside us permanently like parasites. Now imagine having a bunch of these things inside your body, constantly posting images or videos online of your internal like those live web cams.... Now you not only have no privacy outside of your body, you don't even have privacy inside your body.... Well, but if lives can be saved, I guess it's okay.

To read more about this, click here.

The good news: the robot is reusable!
The bad news: the robot is reusable!