Although we may not yet have reached the stage where manned submarines can be shrunken down and placed inside the body, à la the movie Fantastic Voyage, current technology does allow us to do something almost as impressive - it is now possible to obtain images of the inside of the intestinal tract, by getting patients to swallow a camera-equipped capsule. Japanese company RF System Lab reported success using its Norika 3 RF Endoscopic Robot Capsule to transmit live video from inside test subjects back in 2004, while just last year Olympus announced the creation of a similar device. Now, Norwegian researchers are stating that they are in the process of developing the "next generation" of camera pill.
The research project, named "Melody," is a collaboration between Oslo University Hospital, the University of Oslo, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, and 22 other partners.
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The endoscopic capsule itself, which is still in development, will incorporate a tiny HD video camera, light source, radio transmitter, battery, and presumably a microprocessor. It will be able to record high-definition video within a patient's digestive tract, transmitting it in real time through their body tissue via ultra-wideband radio waves. It will also use such waves to transmit data on its location within the body, which will be picked up by a belt of small receivers worn around the patient's stomach.
Because 30 frames-per-second of HD video is a huge load for such a small device to process, the researchers have devised an algorithm that compresses the video to three percent of its original size - reportedly, the picture quality is still sufficient for medical imaging purposes.
The video-transmitting technology has already been tested on pigs, where it was found that an antenna placed against the skin could pick up strong video signals as long as the transmitter was no deeper than five centimeters (two inches) within the chest or abdomen. In order to enhance those capabilities, the researchers are also working on a radar-based imaging system which is said to outperform video, and allow for transmissions from deeper within the stomach and intestines.
Once it's perfected, it is possible that the Melody technology could also be used in other applications such as the petroleum industry, for inspecting the insides of pipes.