Medical technology has already brought us snake robots and nanobots for surgery. The next bot on the list? An origami robot with a biodegradable frame that you swallow in an ice cube.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are designing an ingestible robot that could patch wounds, deliver medicine or dislodge a foreign object. It's called an “origami robot” because the accordion-shaped gadget is folded up and frozen into an ice capsule.
“You swallow the robot, and when it gets to your stomach the ice melts and the robot unfolds,” Daniela Rus, a professor who directs MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, told the Associated Press. “Then, we can direct it to a very precise location.”
Still in the experimental stage, the bot is being tested by the researchers in an artificial stomach made of silicone.
Rus said one of the robot's most important missions could be saving children who swallow disc-shaped button batteries. If swallowed, the batteries can quickly burn through the stomach lining and be fatal.
The robot's flexible frame is biodegradable, made of the same dried pig intestine used for sausage casing.
Embedded in its meaty body—it wouldn't be hard to make a kosher version, Rus said—is a neodymium magnet that looks like a tiny metal cube.
Magnetic forces control its movement. Researchers use remote-control joysticks to change the magnetic field, allowing the robot to slip and crawl through the stomach on the way to the object it is trying to retrieve or the wound where it must deliver drugs.