Ingestible ‘origami robot’ lets doctors operate on a patient remotely

May 16, 2016

An “origami robot” unfolds itself from an ingestible capsule. It could be used by a physician to perform a remote-controlled operation (credit: Melanie Gonick/MIT)

MIT researchers and associates have developed a tiny “origami robot” that can unfold itself from a swallowed capsule and, steered by a physician via an external magnetic field, crawl across the stomach wall to operate on a patient. For example, it can remove a swallowed button battery or patch a wound.

System for remote-controlled clinical procedures via origami-based robot. A patient swallows an iced capsule, which melts when it reaches the stomach, releasing the robot from a folded origami structure. To remove a foreign body (such as a button battery), the physician controls the robot from outside the body via a magnetic field that affects the magnet inside the delivery structure, allowing the robot to push the foreign body into the GI system. The robot can also treat an inflammation by releasing a drug contained in the delivery structure. (credit: Shuhei Miyashita et al./ICRA Proceedings)

Every year, 3,500 swallowed button batteries are reported in the U.S. alone. Frequently, the batteries are digested normally, but if they come into prolonged contact with the tissue of the esophagus or stomach, they can cause an electric current that produces hydroxide, which burns the tissue.

The researchers at MIT, the University of Sheffield, and the Tokyo Institute of Technology presented the work last week at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation. The design built on previous work (see related links below) from the research group of Daniela Rus, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. The new robot is a successor to one reported at this conference last year, with an improved design, tested in a pig stomach.

Rus and the team plan further developments, including the robot’s ability to perform procedures without physician remote control.

MIT | Ingestible origami robot

Abstract of Ingestible, Controllable, and Degradable Origami Robot for Patching Stomach Wounds

Developing miniature robots that can carry out versatile clinical procedures inside the body under the remote instructions of medical professionals has been a long time challenge. In this paper, we present origami-based robots that can be ingested into the stomach, locomote to a desired location, remove a foreign body, deliver drugs, and biodegrade. We designed and fabricated composite material sheets for a biocompatible and biodegradable robot that can be encapsulated in ice for delivery through the esophagus, embed a drug layer that is passively released to a wounded area, and be remotely controlled to carry out underwater maneuvers specific to the tasks using magnetic fields. The performances of the robots are demonstrated in a simulated physical environment consisting of an esophagus and stomach with properties similar to the biological organs.