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Moving inside the human body with mm precision

Rendering of the ATOMS microchip within the gastrointestinal tract. The actual microchip would be much smaller just 0.7 cubic millimetres. The microchip contains a magnetic field sensor, integrated antennas, a wireless powering device, and a circuit that adjusts its radio frequency signal based on the magnetic field strength and wirelessly relays the chip’s precise location. Credit: Ella Marushchenko/Caltech

Researchers at Caltech have been able to create a chip that mimics the properties of MRI, a very bulky machinery, so tiny that it can be injected in the body, through arteries, or can be swallowed to explore the gastrointestinal tract.

The micro chip is in shape of a cube, less than one cubic millimetre and contains magnetic sensors plus the radio systems to communicate with an external probe and can be equipped with specific sensors as needed.

The chip can either move inside the body following the flow of blood or food or it can be steered using magnetic fields to an exact location. It can be localised within a theoretical 0.3 mm space and in practice it has been shown to be localised with sub-millimetre precision.

The chip can be equipped with a battery, an extremely tiny one, or it can receive power from the external probe using frequencies in the range of 1GHz (your home wifi would be ok  to power it…).

The localisation system is based on the detection of electronic spin, at the bases of the MRI working. This provides an extremely accurate localisation in a 3D space. Three magnetic fields emitted from different places provide the required spatial triangulation to detect the position. Additionally, they can be used to steer the chip in the desired position.

This sub-millimetric precision opens the door to very precise observation at cell level. So far it has been experimented in vivo on mice showing that it performs as expected.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. He's currently the Chair of the Symbiotic Autonomous Systems Initiative of IEEE-FDC. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and up to September 2018 he was the Head of the EIT Digital Industrial Doctoral School. Previously, up to December 2011, he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books. He writes a daily blog,  http://sites.ieee.org/futuredirections/category/blog/, with commentary on innovation in various technology and market areas.

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