This origami robot treats stomach injuries when swallowed

Every year in the US, there are over 3,500 reported cases of swallowed button batteries, of these cases reported, most of them involved toddlers. Even though most of these batteries get digested, some may leak, thereby causing tissue burns, bleeding, and even death. That is about to change very soon.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield, Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan, and an international team of researchers from MIT have teamed up to demonstrate a new foldable origami robot, this little robot, when ingested, can be controlled inside the stomach to treat internal wounds or remove things like button batteries from the stomach. The robot is made of a specially folded sheet of dried pig intestine (usually used in sausage casing) and a tiny magnet.

The meat made origami robot can be used to treat stomach injuries and remove swallowed batteries from the stomach

As soon as the robot is inside the stomach, the capsule surrounding it dissolves and the robot unfolds itself. The robot has a magnet attached, and its movements are steered using external magnetic fields to the desired location inside the stomach where it can treat injuries.

Although this isn’t the first origami robot that MIT has developed, the new robot design is significantly different. “Like its predecessor, it can propel itself using what’s called a “stick-slip” motion, in which its appendages stick to a surface through friction when it executes a move, but slip free again when its body flexes to change its weight distribution” also because stomachs contain liquid, the robot can swim, too.

A synthetic stomach made out of silicone rubber was built by the team, it was modelled on the properties of a pig’s stomach, and filled with a mixture of water and lemon juice to simulate stomach fluids. When deployed, the robot went directly to the battery and picked it up via its attached magnet. The new bot also relies on the fluid inside the stomach for propulsion. “In our calculation, 20 percent of forward motion is by propelling water — thrust — and 80 percent is by stick-slip motion,” says Shuhei Miyashita. “In this regard, we actively introduced and applied the concept and characteristics of the fin to the body design, which you can see in the relatively flat design.”

“It’s really exciting to see our small origami robots doing something with potential important applications to health care,” says Daniela Rus, who also directs MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). “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.”

“This concept is both highly creative and highly practical, and it addresses a clinical need in an elegant way,” says Bradley Nelson, a professor of robotics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich. “It is one of the most convincing applications of origami robots that I have seen.”

According to the team, the next step 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. They will be presenting their research at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Stockholm, Sweden, from May 16-21.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in 1861 in response to the increasing industrialization of the United States, MIT adopted a European polytechnic university model and stressed laboratory instruction in applied science and engineering. Researchers worked on computers, radar, and inertial guidance during World War II and the Cold War. Post-war defense research contributed to the rapid expansion of the faculty and campus under James Killian..