MIT has created a swallowable origami robot made of pig intestines

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MIT researchers come up with some amazing technologies to make our ordinary tech better such as cooler laptops and faster web page loading. Sometimes they push things a little further with shape-shifting interfaces, reflection-free photos, and anti-wrinkle cream that works. Now they’ve impressed and repulsed us in equal measure with a robot made of dried pig intestines, which you’re supposed to swallow.

The purpose of this research was to create a robot that can perform tasks inside the human digestive system without causing damage itself. This meat robot is described as an “origami robot” because it is swallowed folded up inside an ice pill. Once the ice melts in your stomach, the robot unfolds and goes about its business.

The most important aspect of the robot is how it’s controlled with magnetic fields. This means you don’t need to send a cable down with the robot and means everything can be sent safely through the digestive system. One of the creators, Daniela Rus, is excited about the medical applications. “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 technology could be used in robots capable of wide range of functions. To give an example, MIT chose the bizarre statistic that 3,500 Americans report swallowing watch batteries every year. They usually pass through the digestive system easily enough but sometimes become embedded in the oesophagus. The origami meatbot could dislodge the battery, allowing it to be digested normally. Or as normally as digesting a watch battery could be.

The researchers are continuing to work on the robot and the next step is to include sensors that allow it to control itself without the need for electromagnetic fields. We wonder if people in the past ever imagined there would be a time when someone would need to remove a watch battery from their oesophagus using an autonomous origami meat robot. What a time to be alive.


Main image: MIT