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Fantastic Voyage vehicle

Once the stuff of science fiction like the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage, miniature robots with sophisticated guidance systems may soon be ready for clinical trials.

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Pill-sized robotic capsules are under development for screening, diagnostic, and therapeutic procedures. Making robotic capsules reliable for gastrointestinal screening requires the addition of actuators that provide a means of propulsion or tissue manipulation, while two-way, high-speed wireless data transmission of images and instructions is needed to operate the capsule's moving parts. Controlling the movement of capsular devices within the body usually involves one of two basic strategies—directing movement with onboard actuators, or by magnetic fields generated outside the patient's body. In addition, imaging sensors, power supplies, and other required tools must be fitted into a device small enough for the patient to swallow comfortably. A third solution is a hybrid approach that combines both internal and external locomotion methods.

One research group has developed a hybrid capsule with four motor-driven extendable legs, which is guided forward by an external magnetic field. The capsule deploys its legs when it reaches a segment of intestine whose walls have collapsed, so that it can lift the surrounding tissue and move through the opening.

Robots that configure themselves inside the body using magnets are being developed to expand the range of tasks that robot capsules can carry out, including surgery.

From Scientific American
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Abstracts Copyright © 2010 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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