Tiny robo to tread through spine


Written on Monday, November 13, 2006 by Gemini

It has been a stuff of science fiction, compressing something to microscopic size and making it travel with blood flow in the human body. In the film Fantastic Voyage, a underwater vehicle was shrunk to microscopic size and injected into the blood vessels.

Now, a team headed by Moshe Shoham of Haifa’s Technion has created a propulsion system for a miniature robot to travel through the spinal canal, powering through cerebrospinal fluid, reports livescience.com. Shoham is also the primary developer of the SpineAssist robot to aid surgeons in performing delicate spinal procedures. The requirements for a robot that moves through body cavities are strict; it must be small enough to move through the body and it must have a
propulsion system that is flexible enough to work.

Devices like the PillCam, a pill-shaped camera that is swallowed to picture the complete digestive tract, are moved along by the body’s own peristalsis, and do not need their own propulsion system. “The first location we’re targeting is the spinal canal—which means the device will travel through the cerebral spinal fluid (CSS) which is clear and similar to water. It doesn’t flow too fast, but it needs propulsion,” said Shoham.

“Now we have the propulsion system, but we still don’t have the actual payload —whether it’s a camera from images, or a subsystem which would take a biopsy — that’s still in the development stage.” The robot would in essence be a freeswimming endoscope; a robot with two actuators — swimming tails — that will have a camera in the head to broadcast images to the physician outside. “This is a unique swimming mechanism that is adapted to tiny sizes and, with very low power consumption”, the Technion researchers explain. “In the future, we hope that the robot will also be able to perform biopsies and release medications for local treatment.”

Shoham estimates that it will takeseveral more years to complete the design of the robot’s payload and to further miniaturise the design. He remarks: “I believe that in the future there will be micro-robots that will be permanently implanted in our bodies and will be able to navigate to problematic points. This is a step up for micro-penetration into the human body.”

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