Researchers at the University of Washington developed a tiny camera designed to take high-quality, color pictures in confined spaces. Such a device could find warning signs of esophageal cancer, the fastest growing cancer in the United States. The scanning endoscope developed at UW consists of just a single optical fiber for illumination and six fibers for collecting light, all encased in a pill.
Once swallowed, an electric current flowing through the UW endoscope causes the fiber to bounce back and forth so that its lone electronic eye sees the whole scene, one pixel at a time. At the same time, the fiber spins and its tip projects red, green and blue laser light. The image processing then combines all this information to create a two-dimensional color picture.
Most of today's endoscopes capture the image using a traditional approach where each part of the camera captures a different section of the image. These tools are long, flexible cords about 9 mm wide - about the width of a human fingernail. Because the cord is so wide, patients must be sedated during the scan. UW's 1.4 mm tethered-capsule endoscope is cheap because it doesn't require anesthesia and sedation, which increase the cost of the traditional procedure.