Picture this: a tiny robot in the dark pits of your stomach, scouting the area. Its mission: find an internal wound and treat it. Sounds like Hollywood’s next big budget movie (maybe starring The Rock), doesn’t it? However, a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are actually working on it at this very moment.
The team, which includes the researchers from MIT, the University of Sheffield, and the Tokyo Institute of Technology, has developed a pill-like origami robot as their newest attempt at developing an ingestible robot. The latest design comes in the form of a tiny magnet enclosed within a folded piece of dried pig intestine, and the robot is small enough to enter the body by simply having the patient drink it like a capsule. Once inside the stomach, the acidic juices cause it to unfold. It can then be controlled through an external magnetic field, avoiding the need for any attachment and allowing it to go further and achieving more tedious tasks.
Due to the difficulty of controlling objects with external magnetic fields, the robot is still limited to simple tasks as of now; its latest trial task was during May of this year.
The goal was to use the robot to fetch a button battery inside a simulated stomach, modeled after a pig’s stomach and filled with water and lemon juice to replicate acidic juices. The bot was supposed to cling to the battery, pull it out of the tissue, and guide it toward the colon for evacuation.
Although it seems like a simple task, it is no light issue. According to Daniela Rus, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, there are more than 3500 reported cases of swallowed button batteries every year in the U.S. It could naturally pass through the body, but there’s always the risk of internal burning if it comes into contact with the stomach for too long. That’s where this robot becomes useful, being able to do a job that science hasn’t been able to do before.
Using this robot, we’ll be able to patch internal intestinal wounds, deliver medicine, and (as the team demonstrated) remove small items accidentally swallowed. Imagine how many toddlers swallow small objects (i.e., toy pieces) on a daily basis. This robot could definitely help and even avoid the need for surgery in certain cases.
The robot is still a work in progress, and there are a lot more modifications to be done before it hits the market. They’re planning to redesign it and work more on its functionality. According to Rus, the next step is adding sensors to the robot in order for it to control itself without an external magnetic field.
By Edwive Seme