Healthcare of the future is in our hands

One of the goals for healthcare is to develop less invasive alternatives to standard surgery as they are usually less risky and have faster recovery times, benefiting both the patient and medical team.

An ingestible robot held in someone's hand. It is small and red.

Dr Dana Damian and Dr Shuhei Miyashita (Automatic Control and Systems Engineering) have been involved in a cutting edge project with researchers from the University of York, MIT and the Tokyo Institute of Technology to create an ingestible origami robot.

This tiny robot, the size of a £1 coin, can unfold itself from a swallowed capsule to complete specific tasks in the body, including removing foreign objects, treating wounds and delivering medicine at designated locations, eliminating the need for surgery.

It is made from layers of a biocompatible material, sandwiching a material that shrinks when heated. A pattern of slits in the outer layers determine how the robot will fold when the middle layer contracts. The robot self-folds by applied heat. Once folded, it is placed into a capsule of ice, which, when ingested, melts in the stomach, allowing the robot to fold out into its functional 3D form. The robot can then be controlled via an external magnetic field to navigate to a wound location.

As an example of how it can be used, in the case of a child swallowing a button battery, the acid in the battery can burn through the tissue of the oesophagus or stomach. The origami robot can be navigated to the site of the battery, lift it out of the tissue and eliminate it out of the digestive system, removing the need for surgery.

We are moving toward medical technology that is less invasive and more autonomous and thus can provide safe, improved and consistent outcomes.

Dr Dana Damian

Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering

The team is now working on developing origami patches that can patch a hole (not only a wound) in the stomach autonomously.

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