Intestinal Robots

Intestinal robots are artificial electromechanical systems – robots – that were designed for exploring the inner cavities and organs of the body, particularly the intestines and other parts of the digestive tract.  Built to replace or provide an alternative to colonoscopy, currently the only option for taking a look inside the human body (this is done by inserting a tube through a convenient orifice), intestinal robots have gained much attention from the medical community.  Due to the minute size of the circuitry that has to be used in intestinal robots, they are seen as a field for technological development and as an application of Moore’s Law.

First-Generation Robots

The first wave of intestinal robots was mostly designed to pass through the body passively.  The primary component of these robots was a miniaturized camera that took still images or video as it passed through the patient’s body.  An early example of this kind of robot was the camera that was integrated into a pill, which could then be swallowed (and consequently passed out) by the patient.

Second-Generation Robots

The second wave of intestinal robots was built on the functionality of the first-generation robots.  Second-generation robots still have a camera, but they have other components on board.  Some of them have the capacity to bring medicines or chemicals which could be applied or released upon command, or a system that enables it to adhere to certain parts of the body so as to prolong the robot’s time inside the body.

The major developments brought by second-generation robots were additional components (and consequently additional functions) as well as a greater capability to be controlled from outside the body.  Second-generation intestinal robots allowed doctors to take a more active role in inspecting and remedying conditions in the digestive tract.

Examples of second generation robots include Olympus Medical Systems’ capsule endoscope and NanoRobotics Lab’s robotic bug.  Both inventions were released in 2005.

Third-Generation Robots

The latest, publicly available intestinal robots are considerably more independent of the body’s processes than their predecessors.  The new robots have been designed to stay in the body for as long as necessary.  They come equipped with different adhesion methods to do this.

Aside from this, another notable development with the latest intestinal robots is their “body-friendly” characteristics.  They work with the body’s natural processes and with the environment in order to fulfill their tasks.  For instance, the snail robot that was released in 2006 was designed to ‘ride’ on the mucus naturally found on the intestinal walls.  This mechanism minimizes the pain felt by the patient.

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