How a remote-controlled robotic pill could be the next breakthrough in digital health

We caught up with Israeli professor David Zarrouk to hear about the research he's doing to create a low-power robot for physicians to use for diagnosing and treating intestinal problems.

Medicine and health are among the next arenas to be disrupted by AI and robotics. We spoke with David Zarrouk, Director of the Bio-inspired and Medical Robotics Laboratory at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, about the work he's doing to make robots for health care that are inspired by biology and nature. That includes a robotic pill that moves through the intestines like a worm and can be remote-controlled by health care professionals.

You can watch the video interview above or read the transcript below.

Zarrouk said, "What you see here is a robot that we're developing as a robotic pill that can be swallowable to crawl inside the intestines and film inside the intestines. The purpose of the pill is the doctor can move it, control it to film a specific desired area, and then it can be used also to take biopsies or to [make] targeted drug deliveries, where the robot can drop drugs in the specific area that [the doctor] wants.

"As of today, we haven't been able to move a robot inside the intestine, and the only thing available on the market today is the camera pill, but the camera pill is only passive, so it can't be moved externally on demand. By adding the feature of moving the pill, we can add multiple advantages. As I said, the doctor would be able to move the pill to a specific area to film specifically images, or if you want to take biopsies, or release drugs in a specific area."

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"Lots of groups around the world are working on solving this problem. Our solution is unique, by the mechanical design, in which we produce wave-like motion using a single motor. It's reliable, it's energy efficient, so it doesn't take too much battery to move inside the intestines. All of our experiments seem to be running very well inside flexible environments. I can't exactly compare, but it would be 100 times more efficient, so this robot we expect that we would be able to [use a battery] to run it, not wired. We believe that this thing, if successful, will be able to run at about 1 cm a second, which means about six to 10 minutes the robot can be out of the body."

Also see

​Dr. David Zarrouk, Assistant Professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Dr. David Zarrouk, Assistant Professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Image: Jason Hiner/TechRepublic

About Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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