Systematic Design of Medical Capsule Robots
The Science and Technology of Robotics in Medicine (STORM) group at Vanderbilt decided that its medical capsule robots’ hardware, software may become open-source. In their recent paper in IEEE Design & Test, they described Vanderbilt’s capsule robots that could be made small enough eventually to be swallowed, could be used for preventative screenings and to diagnose and treat a number of internal diseases.
"Now research groups with hypotheses about how to use the capsules won’t have to redesign boards and interfaces from scratch, which means they can get to the prototyping stage faster. Medical capsule robots differ from the PillCam, put on the market in 2001, because they can be manipulated to perform internal tasks rather than just passing through the body and recording video. The paper explains the hardware modules available, which handle computation, wireless communication, power, sensing and actuation. Each is designed to interface easily with new modules contributed from other research groups. On the software side, Vanderbilt engineers used TinyOS — a free, open-source, flexible operating system — to develop reusable components. Ledeczi, senior research scientist at Vanderbilt’s Institute for Software Integrated Systems, said a medical capsule robot is the ideal example of a cyber-physical system.
It must work inside the challenging physical environment of the human body, sense its environment and move through it effectively, and then complete tasks such as release a drug, take a tissue sample or deploy a clamp. Finally, it must constantly communicate with a base station through the entire process. “Our focus is the design environment, not the software per se, with the goal of easing the learning curve for new researchers and engineers who start in this field,” Ledeczi said. “Designing a capsule from scratch requires deep hardware, software and domain expertise.” By providing a hardware and software component library and the tools to make their composition easy, Vanderbilt opens up the field of medical capsule robots to engineers and scientists who have great ideas but aren’t hardware or software experts, plus makes development costs far more affordable, he said."