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The 'robotic pill' - SLA prototyping in miniature

18 October 2012

IDC Models, the rapid prototyping and model making division of Industrial Design Consultancy (IDC), has contributed to the development of a new advance in the realm of 'robotic pills'.

The Imperial College pill robot, prototyped by IDC Models
The Imperial College pill robot, prototyped by IDC Models

The tiny device will be used to deliver medication to a targeted area of the intestines, which can be a difficult part of the body to treat using conventional approaches. 

The robotic pill is being developed by Stephen Woods and Tim Constandinou at Imperial College and uses miniature mechanical mechanisms embedded within it to administer a 1ml dose of medication. The pill is swallowed by a patient and travels naturally through the patient’s body to the small intestine.

Its movements through the body can be tracked by the medical team. When it reaches the target location, the operator sends a signal instructing it to send out its legs to hold it in position. The medical team can then instruct it to inject medication directly into the target site. It is believed that this direct treatment will be extremely effective in controlling pathologies of the GI tract, such as intestinal cancer or small intestinal Crohn's disease.

Imperial College was keen to showcase prototypes of the robotic pill to the medical community, but was faced with the challenge of finding a company able to offer such technology in miniature.  Peter Pendergast, Head of IDC Models, explains:

“The total size of the pill is only 30mm by 11mm, so you can appreciate how minute the robotic components must be to fit inside. We have worked closely with Stephen Woods at Imperial College to refine the robotics and our Viper SLA has produced components that go down to only 1.75mm2 in size.”

Imperial College provided the CAD files and IDC Models used its Viper Stereolithography (SLA) machine to prototype the device. The robotic pill has already received much positive feedback and the prototypes will be used to seek further investment for product development. 

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