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Swallowed a battery? This ingestible origami robot will get it out

Getting to the root of the problem has never looked quite like this, medically speaking. Thanks to the latest innovation from the minds at MIT, there is now a tiny origami robot capable of performing internal surgery after being swallowed by a patient. As the MIT News Office reported, a collaboration amongst researchers at MIT, the University of Sheffield, and the Tokyo Institute of Technology gave way to this minuscule device, ingested by way of a capsule and steered by external magnetic fields, that can “crawl across the stomach wall to remove a swallowed button battery or patch a wound.”

“It’s really exciting to see our small origami robots doing something with potential important applications to health care,” said Daniela Rus, lead researcher on the study and director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. “For applications inside the body, we need a small, controllable, untethered robot system. It’s really difficult to control and place a robot inside the body if the robot is attached to a tether.”

The robot is contained in a capsule made of ice that melts as it makes its way to its intended target, building upon previous origami designs from MIT. It also makes use of a “stick-slip” motion, which means that its appendages rely upon friction to stick to a surface when it needs to make a move, but can slip aside when it flexes its body, changing its weight distribution.

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The primary use case for the origami robot thus far lies in removing batteries from the stomach, a task made necessary more often than one might imagine. According to the MIT team, around 3,500 batteries are accidentally swallowed each year across the U.S., and this robot could be hugely beneficial in helping doctors remove these foreign objects.

In trials, the origami robot made its way towards the battery and attached itself before scientists were able to use external magnets to help the robot drag the battery away from the danger zone of the stomach lining. Then, simply by directing it towards the gut, both the battery and the robot can pass naturally.

Who knows? One day, all our medical procedures may be done from within us … all by a little unfolding robot.