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Robot Snail

November 7, 2006

A robot snail could make some medical procedures a lot more comfortable.


Why doctors may want to imitate snails. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A robotic snail may someday crawl through the human intestine to diagnose diseases. According to biomedical engineer Dimitra Dodou at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, such a device could provide a more comfortable alternative to colonoscopy. She says the challenge is finding a way to navigate the intestine’s uneven, slippery terrain.

DIMITRA DODOU (Delft University of Technology, Netherlands):
Imagine that you have to move inside a deflated balloon, and it is lubricated.

Rather than fight the lubrication, Dodou and her colleagues sought to imitate the snail, which both sticks to and slides on its trail of slime. They found that chemicals called muco-adhesives created enough friction for a simple device to walk across a pig’s intestine. They’re also fine-tuning patterns of motion, in order to create a sure-footed prototype that still treads lightly on delicate tissue. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.