This Swallowable Origami Robot Can Retrieve Stuff From Your Stomach


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockMay 15 2016, 20:42 UTC
395 This Swallowable Origami Robot Can Retrieve Stuff From Your Stomach
Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Youtube

A new mini-robot could be our best hope to putting an end to the problems caused by children’s favorite pastime: swallowing random crap. This tiny “origami” robot developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is able to travel down into your stomach, unfold, and retrieve objects that have become stuck there.

For example, according to the researchers at MIT, over 3,500 of those button-sized batteries get swallowed every year. Usually, swallowing stuff like this isn’t too much of a problem, since nature usually takes care of the business within one to three days. But batteries can pose a real problem, as they can occasionally burn the stomach tissue and become embedded.


The robot is encapsulated in an ice pill. As it makes its way to the stomach, the ice melts and the robot is able to increase its size by unfolding – hence the reference to origami. From here, external magnetic fields can be used to move and control the robot. It’s also able to move itself through a “stick-flip motion” – which relies on friction and changes in weight distribution to propel itself in different directions. Using these techniques, it is able to grab or nudge out things such as batteries that have become lodged in the stomach, all without the need for invasive surgery.



So what do you make a robot like this out of? Shuguang Li, who worked on the project, said their eureka moment came when they were wandering through Asian markets and the local Chinatown market looking for materials. In the end, they settled for a type of dried pig intestine, the kind that is used in sausage casings. Not only does this mean the robot is biocompatible, it also means a large chunk of it is biodegradable.

The project is still in its early days and has only been tested on a simulated human esophagus and stomach so far. However, the researchers have high hopes for this folded little robot. Not only do they think it will be able to remove foreign objects, they believe it could be developed to patch up wounds or administer medicine. The team also want to develop the robot to become autonomous and able to carry out procedures without any external controls.

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  • health,

  • stomach,

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