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Pillbot, the robot pill that can transform diagnostic tests

An easy-to-swallow robot pill that a doctor can guide to perform gastrointestinal examinations. This could be a revolution for patients and doctors, with obvious benefits for hospitals, which would relieve the need for expensive and time-consuming examinations. These effects could be generated by Pillbot, an endoscopic pill created by Endiatx, a Californian startup based in Hayward, whose intuition has so far raised $7 million in funding.

Minimal in size, 13 x 30 millimetres, Pillbot integrates cameras, sensors, LEDs and three electric motors with propellers and can transmit HD video at 2.3 megapixels per second. This will be quadrupled over the coming months, with a video stream from inside the patient’s body transmitted in real-time to a computer or other mobile device the doctor uses. In this way, Pillbot allows a detailed view of the patient’s digestive system, enabling an understanding of whether and where to intervene to resolve any problems.

The pill can also be driven with the Playstation controller

The main witness to the goodness of the project is Torrey Smith, CEO of the startup founded in 2019, who, between demonstrations and experiments, has swallowed the robotic capsule 43 times, leaving impressed the audience that has witnessed the trials performed over the past year. “The current prototype is the size of a multivitamin capsule, with the front part looking like a normal pill with a camera and motors at the back to move in any direction.

Theoretically, the robot pill has the potential to transform the way diagnostic examinations are performed, as it would provide doctors with exceptional vision to investigate the presence of foreign bodies inside the human body. Among the differences between traditional methods is the ability of specialists to remotely control Pillbot via a game controller, such as the PlayStation 5 controller already used in a demonstration.

Manoeuvrability and non-invasive nature are two peculiarities that distinguish the robot capsule from its peers on the market, offering the possibility to examine one or more specific areas in detail. This is thanks to a tiny battery that guarantees the energy needed to perform the mission and facilitate data transmission to the doctor. An operation that takes place in total safety, as there is a biocompatible shell to protect the device to be ingested, which is naturally expelled from the human body at the end of its life cycle.

The patient is only required to remain fasting the day before the examination, so that Pillbot is inserted into a body rich in water but without substances that could be an obstacle to viewing and analysing the parts concerned. Should the controllable pill route be successful, the possibility of avoiding sedation prior to the examination should be considered, as well as the opportunity of not occupying a hospital bed and machinery, leaving room for those who need more urgent procedures.

Affordable price to help everyone

Endiatx’s plan is to obtain authorisation for use from the Food and Drug Administration by 2025 to launch the device on the market at a price of around $50. A deliberately affordable figure to make Pillbot immediately popular so as to multiply its impact on patients, doctors and the entire healthcare industry. Among the startup’s goals is the desire to go beyond the analysis of the gut, expanding the future use of the robot cause to include the heart, liver, brain and vascular system. ‘By moving procedure-based diagnostics from the hospital to the home, we will achieve a big goal,’ said Dr Vivek Kumbhari, cofounder of the startup and medical profession and chairman of gastroenterology and hepatology at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.

Being able to provide a safer and more comfortable approach to patients is, according to him, the added value of Pillbot, which is also useful in shortening surgery times and thus curing a disease sooner. For the cofounder and chairman of Endiatx, Alex Luebke, another key point of the technology concerns rural and more difficult-to-reach areas, where medical facilities are few and far between. “If we think about developing countries and areas that are poorly or poorly connected to population centres, being able to gather all the information and provide the solution to a disease is a huge step forward,” he says.

Alessio Caprodossi is a technology, sports, and lifestyle journalist. He navigates between three areas of expertise, telling stories, experiences, and innovations to understand how the world is shifting. You can follow him on Twitter (@alecap23) and Instagram (Alessio Caprodossi) to report projects and initiatives on startups, sustainability, digital nomads, and web3.