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Dennis Quaid really could’ve used this ‘in-body GPS’ in Innerspace

Contributed by
Aug 23, 2018

Joe Dante's Innerspace might’ve been a really, really different movie if this kind of tech had existed back in 1987. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are developing a way to help physicians get their bearings inside a patient’s body with help from digestible implants that, in their own words, provide them with an “in-body GPS.”

According to ScienceDaily, scientists at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have devised the implants to communicate with clinical detection equipment using low-power wireless signals, which in animal testing have already proven to be “centimeter-level” accurate.

Researchers led by MIT’s Dina Katabi used the system — which they named ReMix — to bombard a test subject’s body with radio signals, which then reflected the location of the digestible implants. The implants themselves are simply reflectors, and don’t emit any signal of their own. 

How low-power are the radio signals required to detect the tiny implants? Tiny enough to almost get lost amid all the other naturally occurring radiation going on in the everyday environment.

“A key challenge in using wireless signals in this way is the many competing reflections that bounce off a person's body,” ScienceDaily observed. “In fact, the signals that reflect off a person's skin are actually 100 million times more powerful than the signals of the metal marker itself.”

The workaround, it turns out, was to design a method of differentiating between all that background-noise radiation and the radiation that helped researchers locate the implants. Using a small semiconductor device as a filter, Katabi’s team was able to filter out “the original frequencies that came from the patient’s skin.”

While researchers aren’t aiming the new technology at Martin Short’s body to help Dennis Quaid chase down tiny little men with murderous intent, they are hoping to refine it so that it can be used to track the progress of tumors in human cancer patients, and perhaps even to administer highly localized medications. The next step, says the team, is to refine the algorithms used to gauge the reflected radio energy to account for the radiation-emitting differences between patients’ bodies, with the goal of one day introducing an evolved version of ReMix for use in proton therapy centers worldwide.