Researchers from MIT, the University of Sheffield in England and the Tokyo Institute of Technology have developed a tiny, origami robot that can be ingested (video below).
The robot is still being developed, but researchers hope one day it could be used to treat internal injuries, deliver medication and remove accidentally-swallowed, foreign objects from the human body.
After the robot, which is wrapped in dried pig intestine and frozen in ice, is swallowed and then moves to the stomach where the ice melts and the pig intestine unfolds, notes The Verge.
For the demonstration video, researchers retrieved a button battery from a synthetic stomach. Each year, 3,500 swallowed button batteries are reported in the U.S., according to the video The robot was able to attach itself to the battery and pull it away from the stomach lining, which a battery could burn.
The researchers used external magnets to steer the robot around the stomach.
Daniela Rus, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, said in a press release:
It’s really exciting to see our small origami robots doing something with potential important applications to health care. For applications inside the body, we need a small, controllable, untethered robot system. It’s really difficult to control and place a robot inside the body if the robot is attached to a tether.
The dried pig intestine might seem like an odd choice, but the researchers tried about a dozen types of material before settling on the ingestible layer.
"We spent a lot of time at Asian markets and the Chinatown market looking for materials," Shuguang Li, a CSAIL postdoc, said.
The synthetic stomach and esophagus in the video were molded from silicone rubber and based upon a pig's stomach purchased by researchers. Water and lemon juice were added to act as the acidic fluids that would normally sit in a real stomach.