Recordable robotics has been a fascinating and growing field in recent years. We’ve already seen a handful of startups working to commercialize a technology that enables in-house monitoring, drug delivery, and more, without the need for an invasive procedure.
This new project from a joint team from Caltech and MIT emphasizes a slightly more basic approach to the category, cramming sensors into a pill-shaped, ingestible module packed with sensors. The system is based on electromagnetic fields and uses a coil operated outside the body to detect the mechanism’s progress through the gastrointestinal tract. In fact, the remote system is able to determine the location of the pill based on the strength of the electromagnetic reading relative to its position.
The researchers have begun testing the system in models of large, non-human animals. They note that they were able to accurately determine the position of the system within 5-10 millimeters.
“Using an external reference sensor helps account for the problem that any time an animal or human is next to the coils, there’s a chance they won’t be in exactly the same position they were last time,” says co-author, Khalil Ramadi. “In the absence of X-rays as ground truth, it’s difficult to map out exactly where this pill is unless you have a consistent reference that is always in the same location.”
Early applications of the technology include the ability to detect things like constipation, gastroesophageal reflux disease and gastroparesis at an early stage. The idea here is to offer a system that can be used at home, without having to go to the doctor’s office or hospital.
“The ability to characterize motility without the need for radiation, or more invasive device placement, I think will lower the threshold for people to be evaluated,” says MIT associate professor Giovanni Traverso.
There is no specific timeline for the system. The next steps include animal testing and then, ideally, human clinical trials before working with manufacturers to bring it to market.