Companies and researchers all over the world are working to develop every conceivable robot: delivery robots, robot assistants, killer robots, and even sex robots. But who ever thought that technology will go the direction of… edible robots? A team of researchers from the Intelligent Systems Laboratory at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) based in Switzerland recently released a paper that details their creation and development of robots that are actually gelatin-based pneumatic actuators. They can be used as a new generation of robots that can be swallowed and metabolize to crawl around inside the body to deliver drugs or medicine where they are really needed.
According to Dario Floreano, director of the school’s Laboratory of Intelligent Systems, in an interview, he admitted that, “It’s a strange thing to develop gelo actuators. Apparently, the project was conceived as more of a challenge than a solid research effort addressing a fundamental issue. Essentially, even the researchers haven’t fully worked out the applications of their creation, or of gelo robots. A year ago graduate student and co-author Jun Shintake came to me and said, “we are doing all of these bio-inspired robots, but biological systems are eaten and our systems are not.”
Floreano also admitted that he found the concept presented by Shintake to be interesting, and thought long and hard on the idea of converging and joining together the different constraints as well as properties of robots and food. Some of the applications that Floreano and Shintake began to consider as ideas include food that walks to colder or hotter locations, food that moves towards the animal or human that needs to eat it, and automated medicine delivery. There is actually a similar study that was conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2016. It proposed the creation of origami robots built from pig intestines. These robots would be ingested and once inside the body would unfold to capture as well as remove harmful swallowed items.
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The gelatinous robots with their gel limbs are also part of the team’s ongoing research on soft robotics in which malleable material can be used in place of solid components such as metal. The research eventually can even go the way of developing other vital contributions such as non-toxic batteries and edible electronics. Aside from healthcare applications, the gel robot can also be utilized as an edible rescue robot with a tracking device. The robot can be used to locate survivors trapped in hard to reach places, who will then proceed to eat the gel robot. The tracking device activates and other rescuers home in on the tracking signal. With this present Swiss research coupled with other similar soft robotics related work, robots with squishy human-like flesh are starting to look very much viable. Well, at least if you need to eat you won’t have a hard time chewing and digesting metal and plastic. Do the gel robots come in different flavors?