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Monday, May 16, 2016

Origami Robot You Can Eat To Remove Things You Shouldn't Have Eaten

This story has it all! Intricate pig folding! Robots! Eating! Magnetic Fields!

It’s missing a few things I like, but I also really, really love hyperbole!

Wait... pig folding? 

What's not hyperbole, however, is the fact that scientists from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), the University of Sheffield in England, and the TIT (Tokyo Institute of Technology) have designed and built an origami robot that a patient can swallow like a capsule.

Once inside the human body, the origami robot unfolds itself to its true robot in disguise form to fix whatever is wrong in the human body—maybe remove a foreign object or perhaps stop some internal bleeding.

The robot—not a nanobot—is constructed of a heat-sensitive material sandwiched between two layers of structural material, and when heated, the sandwiched layer contracts causing the robot to fold according to a slit pattern on its outer layers.

In the image above, you can see the contracted form, and its expanded, unfolded form on the right.

Conceptually, an origami robot isn’t new, but the fact that this one is digestible, is, which I suppose means one does not need to have to poop it out as though it was some sort of disgusting (but fantastic) voyage.

I’m not sure how tasty this origami robot is, as it’s made of dried pig intestine—the same stuff used to make sausage casing—plus a contracting layer made from a biodegradeable shrinkwrap film called Biolefin. This is the 'pig' folding aspect. Well... it is.

Obviously, the most important aspect is the robot itself, and the team was able to construct a small enough robot that a person could easily swallow after being placed within an ice capsule that dissolves by the time it hits the stomach.

It’s at this time that the robot will unfold itself—an accordion-like fold that expands into a rectangle. 

So how does the robot move about?


A permanent magnet is attached to one of the robots accordion folds, and by manipulating the magnetic fields generated, the researchers could make the robot rotate in such a manner that it could, per the experiment, remove a button battery that was stuck to the inside of a synthetic stomach.

The robot is able to move via ‘stick-slip’ motion where friction makes its appendages stick to a surface when it executes a move. The the robot ‘flexes’, it changes the weight distribution allowing the robot to slip free.

One problem the researchers had to overcome, however, was that the bio-compatible material was too flexible, so within a fluid-filled stomach, it could not move properly.

"In our calculation, 20 percent of forward motion is by propelling water—thrust—and 80 percent is by stick-slip motion," says Miyashita Shuhei (surname first). "In this regard, we actively introduced and applied the concept and characteristics of the fin to the body design."

So what the hell is it good for, besides removing batteries?

Apparently the button battery removal is, as of right now, the best operating procedure for the digestible origami robot.

I know… how often does a person swallow a frickin’ watch battery or whatever the heck one uses a button battery for?

Apparently, in the U.S. alone, there are 3,500 reported instances of someone swallowing a button battery, which means there are umpteen more unreported instances. I suppose this is mostly kids doing the swallowing (I hope).

If someone HAS swallowed a button battery, there’s no use sitting around saying that “this, too, shall pass”, because it might not… and prolonged battery contact with the stomach or esophagus (throat) could burn the surrounding tissue.

Yup... these batteries can still cause an electric current  that produces hydroxide that can burn a hole in the tissue. 

So… now that the robot has grabbed hold of the button battery, how does it evacuate itself from the host?

Well… the implication, is that the robot is being used when the battery isn’t passing, so by manipulating those aforementioned magnetic fields, the robot will stick-slip its way away from the wall, moving it towards an area within the stomach where it can pass normally… or as normally as one can pass a button battery being held by a robot. 

The digestible robot is shown in the video below.

Andrew “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” Joseph

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