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Origami meat robot developed to catch swallowed batteries

Robot made from pig intestine uses magnetic fields to move and treat damage caused by electric current.

Did you know that there are some 3,500 button batteries swallowed every year in the United States? Not only does that make a terrible meal it can also be pretty damaging to the lining of your stomach due to the electric current producing hydroxide, which will burn away at your insides. Although it is often the case that the battery will, aherm, naturally leave your body, a team of scientists have developed an ingenious solution to help it on its way – a tiny origami robot made of pig intestine.

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Ok, that sounds pretty hideous but the idea is actually pretty smart. Using previous designs of origami robots, the researchers from MIT, the University of Sheffield, and the Tokyo Institute of Technology found a way to create a robot that is small enough to fit into a dissolvable capsule, strong enough unfold into its robotic form and safe enough to use in the human body.

“We spent a lot of time at Asian markets and the Chinatown market looking for materials,” says Shuguang Li, a researcher on the project. The final material used was a type of dried pig intestine used in sausage casings.

Once inside the stomach the tiny robot is controlled using external magnetic fields, and can then latch onto the battery or patch up any wounds that have formed. You can see the mini meat robot in action in the video below:

“It’s really exciting to see our small origami robots doing something with potential important applications to health care,” says Daniela Rus, Professor in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “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.”

Right now the tests use a silicone pig stomach with a water and lemon juice combo to simulate stomach acids, but next up will be the addition of sensors and a redesign so that it doesn’t need to use a magnetic field to move.

This could be great news for anybody who accidentally swallows batteries in the future, but we’re still of the opinion that sausages taste considerably better anyway.


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