And now … a bot you can swal­low

Modern Healthcare - - OUTLIERS ASIDES & INSIDES -

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.

An MIT stu­dent points a pipette at a tiny “origami robot” model float­ing to­ward a “wound” in a stom­ach model.

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