The stat is remarkable: Every three hours in the US, a child swallows a battery and risks potentially lethal consequences, per the Washington Post. Now, however, a clever fix is in sight, thanks to origami. MIT researchers have unveiled a tiny robot that, once ingested, unfolds inside the body to retrieve batteries or other foreign objects. They've demonstrated how it works in a synthetic stomach, with tests on live animals on deck. Research on the device is still in the early stages, but it could theoretically be used to patch wounds inside the stomach as well, the scientists say in a press release. "It's really exciting to see our small origami robots doing something with potential important applications to health care," says MIT's Daniela Rus.
The Post notes that the robot's structural material had to be highly safe, meaning "sharp chips" were out. "We spent a lot of time at Asian markets and the Chinatown market looking for materials," says one researcher, and they ended up going with dried pig intestine. (The Verge wonders about a vegan version.) The robot is encapsulated in ice; upon being swallowed and melting, it opens up to move along like an "inch-worm," explains CNET. Scientists are able to control its movement via magnetic fields, and it can "swim" in the stomach's fluids—"20% of [its] forward motion is by propelling water," per the release. In the demonstration, the robot's attached magnet allowed it to latch onto a battery and remove it. (The concept of origami holds the promise of creating inexpensive robots.)