Hav­ing stom­ach trou­bles? Try swal­low­ing a robot

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH -

CAM­BRIDGE, MASS. — Has your child swal­lowed a small bat­tery? In the fu­ture, a tiny robot made from pig gut could cap­ture it and ex­pel it.

Re­searchers at the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy are de­sign­ing an in­gestible robot that could be used to patch wounds, de­liver medicine or dis­lodge a for­eign ob­ject. They call it an “origami robot” be­cause the ac­cor­dion­shaped gadget gets 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,” said Daniela Rus, a pro­fes­sor who di­rects MIT’s Com­puter Sci­ence and Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence Lab­o­ra­tory. “Then, we can di­rect it to a very pre­cise lo­ca­tion.”

It’s still a long way be­fore the de­vice can be de­ployed in a hu­man or an­i­mal. In the mean­time, the re­searchers have cre­ated an ar­ti­fi­cial stom­ach made of sil­i­cone to test it.

Rus said one of the robot’s most im­por­tant mis­sions could be to save the lives of chil­dren who swal­low the disc-shaped but­ton bat­ter­ies that in­creas­ingly power elec­tronic de­vices. If swal­lowed, the bat­tery can quickly burn through the stom­ach lin­ing and be fa­tal. The ro­bots could seek out and cap­ture the bat­tery be­fore it causes too much dam­age, push­ing it down through the gas­troin­testi­nal tract and out of the body.

The robot’s flex­i­ble frame is biodegrad­able, made of the same dried pig in­tes­tine used for sausage cas­ing. Em­bed­ded in its meaty body is a neodymium mag­net that looks like a tiny metal cube. Re­searchers use re­mote­con­trol 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.

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