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New 'spider pill' camera robots offer comfortable alternative to colonoscopy

Posting in Cancer

A new, remote-controlled, pill-sized robot that has a camera and moving legs has been developed to scan for cancer in the stomach or colon.

A new, remote-controlled, pill-sized robot that has a camera and moving legs has been developed to scan for cancer in the stomach or colon.

Italian scientists sought to find an alternative to the dangerous, invasive and uncomfortable colonoscopy procedure, which traditionally uses a flexible tube, called a snake, with a camera fixed to the end.

The movable legs of the 'spider pill' allow it to crawl about, offering doctors more freedom to examine the colon or other areas for cancerous growths.

The device, which is comprised of 72 tiny components, is controlled wirelessly from the outside, and can scurry along in any direction (including against gravity) at 50mm per minute.

Once the examination is finished, the spider pill exits the body naturally.

The device is detailed further in a paper written by researchers from the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa, Italy; Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. and the Italian Institute of Technology Network in Genoa, Italy.

"We've tried to imitate [something] natural like a spider or insect so it can walk everywhere," project leader Elisa Buselli said to the BBC. "The examination will be easier for the medical doctor or the patient."

Pills containing cameras already exist, but those rely on peristalsis, or digestive muscle contractions, for movement.

This is considered the first such device whose locomotion can be controlled after it has been swallowed.

The scientists have already successfully tested the device on pigs.

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Andrew Nusca

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Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure