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Towards tactile sensing active capsule endoscopy

Winstone, Benjamin


Benjamin Winstone


Examination of the gastrointestinal(GI) tract has traditionally been performed using tethered endoscopy tools with limited reach and more recently with passive untethered capsule endoscopy with limited capability. Inspection of small intestines is only possible using the latter capsule endoscopy with on board camera system. Limited to visual means it cannot detect features beneath the lumen wall if they have not affected the lumen structure or colour. This work presents an improved capsule endoscopy system with locomotion for active exploration of the small intestines and tactile sensing to detect deformation of the capsule outer surface when it follows the intestinal wall. In laboratory conditions this system is capable of identifying sub-lumen features such as submucosal tumours.

Through an extensive literary review the current state of GI tract inspection in particular using remote operated miniature robotics, was investigated, concluding no solution currently exists that utilises tactile sensing with a capsule endoscopy. In order to achieve such a platform, further investigation was made in to tactile sensing technologies, methods of locomotion through the gut, and methods to support an increased power requirement for additional electronics and actuation.

A set of detailed criteria were compiled for a soft formed sensor and flexible bodied locomotion system. The sensing system is built on the biomimetic tactile sensing device, Tactip, \cite{Chorley2008, Chorley2010, Winstone2012, Winstone2013} which has been redesigned to fit the form of a capsule endoscopy. These modifications have required a $360^{o}$ cylindrical sensing surface with $360^{o}$ panoramic optical system. Multi-material 3D printing has been used to build an almost complete sensor assembly with a combination of hard and soft materials, presenting a soft compliant tactile sensing system that mimics the tactile sensing methods of the human finger.

The cylindrical Tactip has been validated using artificial submucosal tumours in laboratory conditions. The first experiment has explored the new form factor and measured the device's ability to detect surface deformation when travelling through a pipe like structure with varying lump obstructions. Sensor data was analysed and used to reconstruct the test environment as a 3D rendered structure. A second tactile sensing experiment has explored the use of classifier algorithms to successfully discriminate between three tumour characteristics; shape, size and material hardness.

Locomotion of the capsule endoscopy has explored further bio-inspiration from earthworm's peristaltic locomotion, which share operating environment similarities. A soft bodied peristaltic worm robot has been developed that uses a tuned planetary gearbox mechanism to displace tendons that contract each worm segment. Methods have been identified to optimise the gearbox parameter to a pipe like structure of a given diameter. The locomotion system has been tested within a laboratory constructed pipe environment, showing that using only one actuator, three independent worm segments can be controlled. This configuration achieves comparable locomotion capabilities to that of an identical robot with an actuator dedicated to each individual worm segment. This system can be miniaturised more easily due to reduced parts and number of actuators, and so is more suitable for capsule endoscopy. Finally, these two developments have been integrated to demonstrate successful simultaneous locomotion and sensing to detect an artificial submucosal tumour embedded within the test environment.

The addition of both tactile sensing and locomotion have created a need for additional power beyond what is available from current battery technology. Early stage work has reviewed wireless power transfer (WPT) as a potential solution to this problem. Methods for optimisation and miniaturisation to implement WPT on a capsule endoscopy have been identified with a laboratory built system that validates the methods found. Future work would see this combined with a miniaturised development of the robot presented.

This thesis has developed a novel method for sub-lumen examination. With further efforts to miniaturise the robot it could provide a comfortable and non-invasive procedure to GI tract inspection reducing the need for surgical procedures and accessibility for earlier stage of examination. Furthermore, these developments have applicability in other domains such as veterinary medicine, industrial pipe inspection and exploration of hazardous environments.


Winstone, B. Towards tactile sensing active capsule endoscopy. (Thesis). University of the West of England. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Keywords capsule endoscopy, bio-inspired robotics, tactile sensing
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