How awesome would it be if having surgery meant inserting a tiny chip into the blood system and then going about one's normal business, while the surgeon swims around, fixing the ailments. If a team of Stanford engineers have their way this, may soon become a reality.
The amazing invention which was unveiled at the International Solid-States Circuits Conference in mid-February is the brainchild of a team of engineers led by Stanford's Assistant Professor of Engineering, Ada Poon. Resembling a tiny microchip, it is a 3 millimeter wirelessly powered, self propelling medical device that can move in a controlled motion through a fluid - Which in this case would be human blood.
Ms. Poon envisions that one day, doctors will simply inject or implant this device into the patient's body to help diagnose health issues, deliver medicine to the exact area of ailment for faster treatment and even, perform surgeries like zapping blood clots or removing blockage from blood arteries.
The idea of implantable medical devices is not new - Scientists have been trying to develop them for the last 50 years. The problem has been the battery needed to power them - Not only is it large and heavy, but it also, has to be replaced periodically. That meant that the devices could not be made small enough to inject into the blood stream
Ms. Poon's invention, which measures three millimeters wide and four millimeters long or the size of a grain of rice, does not depend on battery for power - It gets its energy transferred, wirelessly. A radio transmitter outside the body sends signals to an independent device inside the body that is fitted with an antenna of coiled wire. The two are set up in a way that any change in the current flow in the transmitter, induces a voltage on the coiled wire, effectively wirelessly transferring the energy the tiny chip needs, to do its job.
In order to better serve the purpose of the medical ailment, the engineering team has created two kinds of wireless energy transfer mechanisms - One simply drives the current directly through the blood so that the medical chip gets propelled forward to the right place inside the body. The other, switches the current back and forth creating a swishing motion - Something that will probably come in handy when the robo chip is cleaning out arteries or zapping blood clots.
While there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before the chip comes to market, the solving of the battery issue has made it closer to reality than it had even been before.