We all know what robots look like. They are mechanical humanoids with legs and arms and a torso, and they walk stiffly so that we know they aren’t people. But some robots have unusual forms, such as an origami robot that has been created by scientists from MIT, the University of Sheffield, and the Tokyo Institute of Technology. The whole thing folds up so that it can be stuffed into a typical pill capsule.
When the pill dissolves, the magic begins. The robot unfolds on its own, and it responds to magnetic fields that can be applied from outside the patient’s body. Using a “stick-slip” motion, it can be steered around inside the body to a desired location. For initial tests, the researchers have used the robot to move to and adhere to a button battery that was stuck to the wall of a pig’s stomach. Apparently, about 3,500 of these little batteries get swallowed every year in the U.S. alone. The majority are passed without incident, but if they stick to the lining of the digestive tract, their electrical current can damage the tissue which can lead to ulcers and other wounds. The scientists were able to move the origami robot to the battery, stick to it, and then hold onto it so that it can be passed safely through the tract.
This new ingestible device could have many applications besides removing stray batteries. For example, it could be useful for delivering medications to specific locations to treat internal wounds. It’s one more example of the rapid development of innovative technology that can lead to more effective medical treatments.