Researchers from MIT have designed a new ingestible "robot" that could one day be used to patch internal wounds, deliver medicine, or remove accidentally swallowed objects from the stomach. The design consists of a specially folded sheet of dried pig intestine (usually used in sausage casing) and a tiny magnet. Folded up, this capsule can be swallowed by a patient. It then hits the stomach and unfolds in the acidic juices, where it can be guided to complete certain tasks using external magnets.
The design is very much a work-in-progress, but its creators think it offers a promising model for the future. Daniela Rus, the director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and co-creator of bot, said it could be useful in health care one day. "For applications inside the body, we need a small, controllable, untethered robot system," said Rus in a press release. "It’s really difficult to control and place a robot inside the body if the robot is attached to a tether."
The origami capsule could be used to remove swallowed batteries from the stomach
It's also difficult to steer something precisely around the body using only external magnets, but Rus had a relatively simple first task for the robot: removing a swallowed battery from the stomach. MIT says that every year in the US there are more than 3,500 reports of swallowed batteries. If left in the stomach or esophagus these can burn the tissue. The researchers suggest that the origami meat robot could be deployed in these scenarios to find the magnet, pulling it free from the tissue and guiding it toward the colon for evacuation.
To assess the robot's suitability for this task, the scientists bought a pig's stomach and modeled a cross-section of it using silicon. They filled the model with water and lemon juice to mimic the acidic fluids of the stomach, and carried out test runs, finding and removing a battery using their origami bot. The next step, says Rus, is to "add sensors to the robot and redesign [it] so it's able to control itself without the need of an external magnetic field." Maybe they'll design a vegan version, too.