Edible 'Origami Robot' Cures Stomach Ache

origamai robot MIT stomach robotics
The robot developed by MIT researchers measures one centimeter across. Christine Daniloff/ MIT

A tiny robot has been developed by researchers that can be placed in an ice cube and swallowed in order to retrieve foreign objects from a person's stomach.

The ingestible technology is made from pig gut and is the latest incarnation of a series of "origami robots" created by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that can be steered using magnetic fields.

"You can imagine ingesting these robots and then controlling where they travel in the body," said Daniela Rus, a professor in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. "Once they arrive at the correct location, they could form themselves into active instruments that can actually manipulate and help through the healing process."

The robot has so far only been tested in an artificial stomach made of silicon but it is hoped the ingestible technology will one day be used in humans and animals. As well as removing accidentally swallowed objects, such as buttons or batteries, the robot can also be used to deliver medicine, dislodge foreign objects and patch wounds.

Several materials were tested for the robot, including rice paper and sugar paper, before the team eventually settled on a type of dried pig intestine used in sausage casings.

This material has the ideal structural properties required for the robot's operation and means that once its task has been completed, the robot dissolves in order to be easily passed by the body.

"This is the first robotic device that completes a full life cycle, from its birth to its death," said Shuhei Miyashita, first author of the paper that details the research.

"Currently, the robot is controlled remotely by a person. We would like to advance this robot and make it more intelligent, such that it can make decisions by itself."