An international team of researchers has recently showcased a tiny origami robot that can be swallowed and controlled by external magnetic fields. According to Daniela Rus, an electrical engineering and computer science professor and director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT, the robot can remove foreign objects, patch wounds, or deliver medicine at designated locations. Ms. Rus further states:

It’s really exciting to see our small origami robots doing something with potential important applications to health care.

According to IEEE Spectrum, the new robot builds on the team’s previous work with origami robots that was shown at ICRA in 2015. The group’s paper explains that, like its predecessor, the robot consists of two layers of structural material sandwiching a layer of shrinkable material that shrinks when heated. ArsTechnica reports that the new robot uses biocompatible materials to maximize the potential applications inside the human body – indeed, numerous different materials were tested before the team settled on dried pig intestines (similar to that used in sausage casings) for the structural material and a biodegradable shrink wrap (Biolefin) for the shrinkable material.

The robot holds a permanent magnet that responds to changing magnetic fields outside the human body. According to TrendinTech, after being swallowed in a dissolvable capsule, the robot can be controlled to, for example, remove a swallowed button battery, an ongoing problem with about 3,500 reported cases per year in the U.S. alone.

Although the project is still in its preliminary stages, Professor Rus and her team explain in their paper’s Discussion & Conclusion that they intend to conduct in vivo experiments and eventually add sensors to the robot and redesign the robot so that it can control itself without the need of an external magnetic field. A video showing the robot in action can be found here.