Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sheffield University, and the Tokyo Institute of Technology have developed a tiny robot that can be swallowed like a pill and fix health issues in your body.

Mostly designed to repair digestive health concerns, the robot is the size of a tablet when folded, making it easy to swallow. It can then be used to dislodge and remove foreign objects such as batteries. Other uses for the tiny robot are a drug deliver system to take medication exactly where they’re needed and a targeted surgery tool, to fix problems in usually inaccessible parts of the digestive system.

“It’s really exciting to see our small origami robots doing something with potential important applications to healthcare,” said Daniela Rus, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT.

“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.”

The actual robot parts of the device are mounted on dried pig intestine, which is also used for sausage casings and then encased in a pill made of ice, making it even easier to swallow. This melts as it moves through the body and unfolds when it reaches its destination. Once it’s transformed, the robot rolls around the stomach, controlled by magnetic fields from outside the body.

When used for removing batteries from the stomach – a common health concern in both the UK and the US – it rolls towards the foreign object, attaches itself and then drags the battery away, further into the digestive system when it can be expelled, along with the robot, naturally.

The ultimate aim of the project is to develop sensors on the device so it can autonomously perform actions rather than relying on external controls.