Design Environment for Capsule Robots


Medical capsule robots are cm-size mechatronic devices designed to perform medical tasks by entering the human body from natural orifices. Wireless capsule embedding a miniature camera are available since 2000 for diagnosis of small intestine diseases. Due to the complexity of operating inside the human body, capsule robots to date have been designed in an ad hoc fashion, relying on profound expertise acquired through many years of experience.

Our Research

In collaboration with the Vanderbilt Institute for Software Integrated Systems (ISIS), we are trying to systematize miniaturized wireless medical device design by creating a cyber-physical design environment that will lower the barriers to design space exploration, thus accelerating progress to prototyping.
A systematic approach to design of pill-size medical devices is possible by outlining the crosscutting constraint that these systems must address. The main ones are (1) size — ideally, a capsule device should be small enough to swallow or to enter natural orifices without requiring a dedicated incision; (2) power consumption — given the limited space available onboard, energy is limited; (3) communication bandwidth — wireless signals must be transmitted through the human body with a sufficient data rate; (4) fail safe operation — since the device is deep inside the human body, the user has no access to it; and (5) effective interaction with the target site, according to the specific functions the device is required to fulfill. Given these common constraints, it is possible to identify a general system architecture for a pill-size medical consisting of the following general modules: (1) a central processing unit (CPU), that can be programmed by the user to accomplish a specific task; (2) a communication submodule, that links the device with user intent; (3) a source of energy that powers the system; and (4) sensors and (5) actuators, both of which interact with the surrounding environment to accomplish one or more specific tasks. It is also desirable for the designers to have a model of the environment, in order to predict the effectiveness of the specific design in accomplishing the desired task.


Model-based miniature medical device design environment

Starting from this systematic approach, we are creating a web-based cyber-physical design framework that will offer different options for the basic submodules of the capsule robot that can be integrated to obtain a simulation of the expected performance. The main goal of the design environment is to lower the barriers to design space exploration, accelerating progress to prototyping, and increasing the probability of success for each prototype.

To support the research community in adopting and using the integrated design environment, all the material is open source and available online at This repository contains all the modules developed so far, including their bill of materials (BOM), schematics, fabrication files, computer-aided design (CAD) models, as well as code examples and the documentation on how to use the proposed environment. In addition, the repository contains the source code of the design environment with a description of how to run and use it locally. For the ease of use, we also provided the Docker-container-based deployment of the project.

Relevant Publications

M. Beccani, H. Tunc, A. Taddese, E. Susilo, P. Volgyesi, A. Ledeczi, P. Valdastri, “Systematic Design of Medical Capsule Robots”, IEEE Design and Test, 2015, Vol. 32, N. 5, pp. 98-108. [ PDF]

A. Taddese, M. Beccani, E. Susilo, P. Volgyesi, A. Ledeczi, P. Valdastri, “Toward Rapid Prototyping of Miniature Capsule Robots”, IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) 2015, Seattle, WA, USA, pp. 4704-4709. [ PDF ]

M. Beccani, E. Susilo, C. Di Natali, P. Valdastri, “SMAC — A Modular Open Source Architecture for Medical Capsule Robots”, International Journal of Advanced Robotic Systems, 2014, Vol. 11, N. 188, pp. 1-16. [PDF]

P. Valdastri, M. Simi, R. J. Webster III, “Advanced Technologies for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy”, Annual Review of Biomedical Engineering, 2012, Vol. 14, pp. 397-429. [ PDF ]

J. L. Toennies, G. Tortora, M. Simi, P. Valdastri, R. J. Webster III, “Swallowable Medical Devices for Diagnosis and Surgery: The State of the Art”, Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part C: Journal of Mechanical Engineering Science, 2010, Vol. 224, No. 7, pp. 1397-1414. [ PDF ]