Would you agree to swallow a tiny robot? Maybe not, if there’s no compelling reason to. But if it’s going to help you recover from accidentally swallowing foreign material without the need of surgery, you will probably give this amazing invention a try.
There’s a robot so small and ingestible that it could be swallowed. Once inside the stomach, it can perform its function – that of closing a wound or zeroing in on foreign material found in the digestive system.
Scientists from Massachusetts have come up with biodegradable robots so minute and flexible, they can be folded up and swallowed so it could do its function. It is a minimally invasive method of fixing wounds in the stomach as it will just disintegrate once it has done its job.
The tiny robot is made of pig intestines, particularly those used as casings for sausages. It looks like a tiny caterpillar designed using origami technique. A very small magnet helps with maneuvering while inside the intestines, according to experts.
Producing a bot that can be ingested did present many challenges. The team responsible for its development said that making it function inside a person’s stomach was difficult because it had to adapt to the organ’s anatomy. It should be able to move even when it accidentally flips over.
Structure and design
The robot’s material shrinks when exposed to heat. When this takes place, slits on its surface causes the robot to fold making it look like segmented structure, like a column of boxcars.
This segmented structure allows the robot to attach itself on a surface and then break free when it flexes. It moves around via a stick-slip motion.
The stomach is filled with fluids so it has to be made to adapt to a watery environment. The team restructured the robot, modeling it after a fish fin. It is capable of swimming and crawling at the same time.
Tests on an artificial environment
The invention was tested on an artificial stomach. The stomach was structured to simulate an actual one that has foreign material, a small watch battery that has been swallowed. The objective was to test if the bot can target the watch battery and mend lacerations it has caused.
Scientists used silicone mold to line the artificial stomach and esophagus. The silicone stomach also contains a liquid that is similar to gastric juices found in the intestines.
In one of the tests, the robot was placed in a capsule made of ice. It’s as small as a pill so it can be easily swallowed. Moreover, the robot has a tiny magnet attached to it so it can be propelled towards the floating battery.
Once near the battery, it attaches to it and together they can be rolled away from the digestive tract and passed out naturally.
This amazing invention proves to be a promising one but the team has to further improve controls to make maneuvering more effective and safe.