Do you know that around 3500 Button batteries (used in calculators, watches and key fobs) are swallowed every year in the US alone? These batteries can cause internal burns if they remain in the stomach for too long. Now researchers at MIT have devised a small ingestible robot that can retrieve these potentially dangerous objects that have been accidentally swallowed without the need for surgery.
In experiments involving a simulation of the human esophagus and stomach, researchers at MIT, the University of Sheffield, and the Tokyo Institute of Technology have demonstrated a tiny origami robot that can unfold itself from a swallowed capsule and, steered by external magnetic fields, crawl across the stomach wall to remove a swallowed button battery or patch a wound.
“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.”
“It’s really exciting to see our small origami robots doing something with potential important applications to health care,” says 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.”
Through a design process that the scientists describe as “mostly trial and error,” it had been possible to compress the robot enough that it could fit inside a capsule for swallowing. When the capsule dissolved, the forces acting on the robot had to be strong enough to cause it to fully unfold. The researchers arrived at a rectangular robot with accordion folds perpendicular to its long axis and pinched corners that act as points of traction.”
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