A joint collaboration between researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Sheffield and Tokyo Institute of Technology (TIT) has produced origami robots that can enter our bodies in the form of pills. The robots act as micro surgeons in the body, healing wounds and delivering medicine etc.

The production team fit the compact robots into a pill made from dried pig intestine, which the gastric acid inside the stomach dissolved. The robot can be externally controlled using a magnet by a physician. The machine can also pick up batteries or other small objects stuck inside the stomach.

This new class of robots is a refinement of a previous design developed by a team of researchers led by MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) Director Daniela Rus. Its design has been completely revamped and it can propel itself by sticking its edges to the stomach’s internal lining.

Why Was This Technology Created?

Before the advent of such innovative technology, fiber-optic endoscopy would have been the ideal course of action and was acted upon two hours after ingestion. Transmission time of the battery through the gut can range from 12 hours to 14 days. The majority of cells did pass in the stool; however, this involved the nuisance of constantly checking the stool and taking frequent X rays.

The team focused on battery retrieval as around 3,500 people swallow batteries annually in the US. Batteries can be quite lethal since they can lead to abdominal pain, loss of appetite, esophageal burns and blood in stool. The origami robot can flush the battery out before any severe complications arise.

Other Famous Nanobots

This is not the first time MIT has led the way in developing cutting edge technology. A group of researchers from MIT previously developed technology on printing materials that could combine to form nanobots on application of heat. The researchers developed aluminum coated polyester than could be twisted or turned into different shapes inside an oven. The other synthetic polymer developed was a variation of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic trapped between sheets of polyester full of cuts and gaps. Upon application of pressure, the PVC deformed and closed its gaps to form a rigid structure.

In the past, scientists were also looking into developing structures using computer-aided design (CAD) files. The system would create 2D patterns as described in one of their research papers. Director Rus says that she dreams of the day when useful robots will be created that can be applied to all fields.

Self-Assembling Walking Robots

Scientists from Harvard and MIT previously created self-assembling robots. Initially, the robots were in the form of a flat sheet of paper and polystyrene plastic layer, containing hinges. Placed in the middle were, a circuit board, two motors, a microcontroller and two batteries.

The microcontroller charged the circuit board which then folded the whole structure. When the metal hinges cooled down, the polystyrene sheet hardened and the microcontroller commanded the robot to move.

This robot is still in its initial stages and is far from being perfect. Researchers are currently modifying the robot so that it starts to fold according to changes in temperature, pressure and other environmental factors. As of now, the robot melts and eats up far too much energy. Therefore, the team is working to use a material other than polystyrene that consumes less energy in the heating process.

For future purposes, scientists believe that there are many applications for this kind of technology, such as self-assembling satellites. The team also hopes that one day people will start renting self-folding robots to assist them with everyday tasks.

A recent example of such technological innovation is the tale of Australian artist Matt Gardiner, who created a group of origami-folding robots, dubbed ‘oribots’ that can continuously build and rebuild themselves.