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Vanderbilt team develops open source medical capsule robots

10 Nov 2015

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A team from Vanderbilt University School of Engineering has developed an open source medical capsule robot so that designers, engineers and scientists who want a customised medical capsule robot won't have to start from scratch.

Medical capsule robot

Addisu Taddese, National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship recipient, holds a medical capsule robot. (Heidi Hall/Vanderbilt University)

Through a website and a paper revealed at a pair of Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) conferences, assistant professor of mechanical engineering Pietro Valdastri, associate professor of computer engineering Akos Ledeczi and their team made the capsule hardware and software open-source.

The paper, titled "Systematic Design of Medical Capsule Robots," ran in a special issue of IEEE Design & Test magazine dedicated to cyber-physical systems for medical applications. Within years, Vanderbilt's capsule robots, made small enough to be swallowed, could be used for preventative screenings and to diagnose and treat a number of internal diseases.

"We've done custom capsule design, one for the colon, one for the stomach, another one with a surgical clip to stop bleeding, but we saw we were basically reusing the same components," said Valdastri, director of Vanderbilt's Science and Technology of Robotics in Medicine (STORM) Lab. "Like it is with Lego bricks, you can reassemble them for different functions. We wanted to provide the people working in this field with their own Lego bricks for their own capsules."

Pietro Valdastri

Pietro Valdastri

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.

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