When a Micro-Robot Encounters a Bowel Lesion

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Engineering


Detection of bowel cancer is currently performed by visual inspection of the colonic mucosa during endoscopy, which is less reliable for small-sized lesions that are not easily visualised. If they are not detected and removed at an early stage, there is a chance that they may become cancerous. This project seeks to develop a new mathematical tool for analysing the sensing capability of micro-robots to aid the detection of hard-to-visualise bowel lesions. Micro-robots experiencing vibrations, frictions, and impacts, known as non-smooth systems, exhibit a rich variety of different long-term behaviours co-existing for a given set of parameters, which is referred to as multi-stability or co-existing attractors. When the robot moves in the colon and encounters a lesion, some particular attractor may dominate its dynamics, while the other co-existing attractors could fade away due to the tissue's mechanical properties associated with different stages of malignant transformation. This significant change in multi-stability can be utilised to distinguish between healthy and abnormal tissues. The applicant proposes to use for the first time robot's multi-stability through the development of state-of-the-art numerical techniques to analyse such robot-lesion correlation, and produce a suite of computational analysis and advanced control methods for cancer detection and staging. In the long term, this work will initiate a new modality for bowel cancer screening, delivering an efficient minimally invasive procedure for patients. The unique research approach of this project, a joint effort of numerical and experimental studies, and the research collaboration with an applied mathematician and two NHS gastroenterologists, will secure a leading global position for the UK in applied non-smooth dynamics, micro-robots and early cancer diagnosis.


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Description ETH 
Organisation ETH Zurich
Country Switzerland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Dr Liu hosts regular monthly meetings with Prof. Brad Nelson and Dr Xiangzhong Chen to discuss project progress.
Collaborator Contribution Prof. Brad Nelson and Dr Xiangzhong Chen provide expertise to Dr Liu's team on micro-robot design and fabrication.
Impact No outcome yet.
Start Year 2021
Description Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral 
Organisation Escuela Superior Polit├ęcnica del Litoral
Country Ecuador 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Dr Liu has provided his expertise in control and experimental data.
Collaborator Contribution Prof. Prof. Joseph Páez Chávez has provided his expertise in numerical analysis.
Impact 1. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspa.2017.0500 2. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11071-017-3855-9 3. https://doi.org/10.1177/0954406218766200 4. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11012-017-0801-3
Start Year 2017
Description MIT 
Organisation Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Dr Liu holds regular monthly meetings with Prof. Chen from MIT to discuss recent research findings from this project.
Collaborator Contribution Prof. Chen has expertise in micro-robots and design. He has regular meetings with Dr Liu's team to provide advice on micro-robot design and control.
Impact No output yet.
Start Year 2021
Description RDEFT 
Organisation Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Hospitals 
PI Contribution The PI has spent 3 days per week for 6 months to learn, observe and be trained in the Endoscopy Department at the Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust.
Collaborator Contribution Dr Shyam Prasad, a Consultant Gastroenterologist for Endoscopy at the hospital, has contributed 5% of his time for the entire duration of the project, meeting with Dr Liu regularly to discuss project progress and provide consultation.
Impact DOI:10.1016/j.ijmecsci.2020.105506 DOI:10.1007/s11071-019-05061-y This is a multi-disciplinary research including mathematics, engineering and medicine.
Start Year 2018
Description University of Southern Denmark 
Organisation University of Southern Denmark
Country Denmark 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Dr Liu hosts regular meetings with Dr Anastasios Koulaouzidis to discuss project progress.
Collaborator Contribution Dr Anastasios Koulaouzidis provide Dr Liu's team expertise on capsule endoscopy and bowel cancer diagnosis.
Impact No outcome yet.
Start Year 2021
Description Engagement with students from Theology Department 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Dr Liu's team gave a talk to about 40 undergraduate students from the Department of Theology and Religion on how artifical intelligence was used in this project for bowel cancer diagnosis. This talk was part of their module "Living with Robots: New Technologies and Ethics in Christian Perspective - THE2/3148".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/theologyandreligionresearch/2022/03/02/living-with-robots-new-technologie...