11-04-2021 | | By Robin Mitchell
Endoscopy procedures are expensive and unpleasant, but the use of small robotic systems could provide patients with a better alternative. Who is Endiatx, what have they developed, and could their company pave a new future for robot pills?
Endiatx is a startup company that has been developing robots for use in the human digestive tract. The company was founded by multiple members in March 2019 and has since looked towards outside investment to continue its development of ingestible robotic systems.
One of the key problems that Endiatx aims to solve is endoscopies. An endoscopy is a procedure whereby a camera (connected to a cable system) is swallowed by a patient, and a doctor can manipulate the camera to see the condition of the oesophagus and stomach. However, such procedures are expensive, uncomfortable, and carry risk including perforation of the stomach or damaging of soft tissue.
To solve the problems caused by endoscopies, Endiatx has been working on an ingestible pill that can provide doctors with the ability to view the digestive tract without the need for cables or complex procedures. While ingestible medical systems have been around for some time, the pill being developed by Endiatx is fundamentally different and could be a game-changer.
Instead of being a “dumb pill” that has a camera, transmitter, and receiver, the system being developed, called PillBot, has 4 micro pump jets. These pump jets provide the pill with a propulsion system, and from there can navigate around the stomach like a drone.
The first system developed was a large scale model using widely available technology such as the Raspberry Pi, and not something that one would swallow. However, this initial mock-up demonstrated the flexibility and manoeuvrability that pump jets provide. The second iteration of the PillBot, called the FishTank Bot, further reduced the size and used custom electronic circuits instead of pre-made development kits.
Interestingly, a video posted on Facebook by the developers of the PillBot demonstrates the first time use of their pill on themselves. While the video does not show major footage of the stomach, it does indeed appear to be working (however, the camera on the pill cuts out after a few minutes suggesting that they still have issues to work out).
If Endiatx can continue to reduce the size of the PillBot further, the impact on the medical field would be major. Firstly, the use of such systems would effectively remove the risk associated with endoscopies and colonoscopies. Another major impact would be the lack of a need for anaesthetics and other numbing agents which all carry risk.
However, another revolution that the use of robotics such as the PillBot could bring is remote diagnostics. According to Endiatx, endoscopies can cost more than $10,000 per procedure due to the need for expensive equipment, trained hands, and anaesthetics. The PillBot, however, would cost approximately $500 per pill, and unlike endoscopies, is remotely controllable. Therefore, patients at home could swallow such pills and have video calls with doctors who can then control the device from their location.