Tiny robot repairmen or therapists traveling the byways of the human body to keep its systems working have been standard futurist fare for years. Now, a team of scientists and engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tokyo Institute of Technology and University of Sheffield have shown how it might work.
The team created what it calls an “origami robot” that would be swallowed in a capsule. When the capsule dissolves, the robot unfolds. It has a magnet on one end that responds to magnetic force outside the body, allowing a medical professional to steer the robot to the site of a rupture needing repair or a foreign object, such as a button battery, that the magnet on the robot could grab. (More than 3,500 incidents of swallowed button batteries are reported each year in the US alone, with some leading to internal burns.)
The team successfully tested its fold-up robot using a silicone model of a pig stomach and esophagus that could be programmed to mimic the organs’ functions and a mix of acids to duplicate the stomach’s environment.