Could this be a James Bond endoscope? It's a high-technology, ultraminiaturized version of those long, flexible scopes that doctors use to examine the insides of your intestines. But this one doesn't have an optical-fiber cable connecting it to the outside world. Everything is packaged in a disposable submarine-shaped pill that you swallow.
A bit larger than a Centrum vitamin pill, the capsule contains a videocamera-on-a-chip, a tiny floodlight, a radio transmitter, and a battery. As the capsule makes its way through the digestive tract, digital images are transmitted to receivers that are taped to the patient's abdomen and connected to a Walkman-size recorder worn on a belt. The recorder also tracks the capsule's location within the body. The system has been tested on 10 people so far, including developers Gavriel Meron, president of Given Imaging in Yokneam, Israel, and Paul Swain, a gastroenterology professor at Britain's London Royal Hospital.
The main benefit of the video-pill technique is that the miniature endoscope can inspect regions of the small intestine that are difficult, if not impossible, to examine with regular endoscopes. The big disadvantage: The pill doesn't stop, and thus can't peer closely at suspicious growths. But that could change. The camera is a new type of imaging chip from Photobit Corp. in Pasadena, Calif. These chips can integrate camera, control circuits, and other features on the same hunk of silicon. That will help make it easier to add a navigation system to a future generation of videocamera pills.