A folding robot made of pig parts that removes batteries from stomachs with magnets

Researchers from MIT, the University of Sheffield and the Tokyo Institute of Technology joined forces for a project that reads like something out of a William Burroughs novel. Crafted from dried pig intestines, the little origami robot is designed to hatch from inside a swallowed capsule and unfold like an accordion.

Once inside the swallower’s stomach, the little meat ‘bot moves around with a “stick-slip” motion, utilizing the friction of its surroundings to propel itself forward, while steering with magnetic fields. Those magnets serve a dual function — they also go to work picking up small batteries swallowed by the ingester.

Apparently it’s a more widespread problem that you likely know. According to MIT’s numbers, 3,500 watch batteries are reported as swallowed in the U.S. each year. Some of them are gotten rid of the old fashioned way (you know, poopin’), but sometimes they burn the stomach or esophagus tissue while in there. So researchers figured this would be as good a use as any for the folding robot they’d been working on.

There are more pig parts involved in this story, incidentally. Once researcher Shuhei Miyashita determined this was a solid application for the robot, he went out and bought a ham and stuck a battery inside. Here’s fellow researcher, Daniela Rus: “Within half an hour, the battery was fully submerged in the ham. So that made me realize that, yes, this is important. If you have a battery in your body, you really want it out as soon as possible.”

The team went back to the giving pig when it came time to design a fake stomach for testing, using a pork stomach to determine the mechanical properties of the digestive system. Ultimately, however, they built the model out of silicone, adding in water and lemon juice for seasoning to simulate stomach acids.