How Do All of the Pieces Fit Together - Bill Lewinger

“No man is an island” (John Donne) and neither are sub-system components of a larger, more complex system.  As with most every device in the world today, there is more to things than just simple parts that fit together with ease and harmony, coming together to complete a simple task.  Coffee makers, which used to just heat water, now have internal bean grinders, brew strength options, integrated water jugs, and milk frothers.  The level of complexity of modern systems requires forethought, careful planning, and lots of integration.  The same applies to capsule endoscopy.

The Sonopill project is working on many different sensor modalities and their underlying infrastructure.  At some point, all of these sub-systems will need to converge into a single device.  And, as will likely be the case, not everything will fit together smoothly in the small space allotted for the capsule.  It may be necessary to have several versions of the capsule for selective functions (e.g. multi-spectral camera + ultrasound + motility, and camera + pressure sensing + pH sensing).  Such combinations would allow for specialised capsules that only have enough inside for the job at hand, which can lower the per-capsule production cost by removing unnecessary components for certain data gathering procedures, but also allows each sub-system a bit more freedom in its size.  It can be difficult to integrate functions together from a hardware and data transmission standpoint; adding a size restriction on top of that makes the task all the more difficult.  So allowing for the possibility of a family of capsules might be a way to ease the integration.

The integration phase of the project will also bring about some interesting challenges.  Although the different groups have been working very closely together, in an effort to make the integration as smooth as possible, there are often unforeseen issues that hinder the process.  Issues such as RF interference and heat dissipation can be aspects that either weren’t explored fully during development, or perhaps couldn’t be accurately modelled until physical prototypes were made.  Manufacturing tolerances can also play a key role when small parts are made, as is certainly the case for the Sonopill components.  Just as there were several prototypes made during the development of each sub-system, there may need to be a few modifications and alterations made during the integration phase.  This is quite typical of all projects where multiple portions are developed separately and then come together.

In the end, the integration phase is as vital (and nearly as development-intensive) as the creation, prototyping, and bench testing of the individual sub-systems.  However, once completed, the entire Sonopill capsule will have a multi-faceted set of functions that will allow for better diagnostics and treatment for future patients, which is the real goal.