Mini surgeons - The robots

Advances in technology and medicine have taken leaps and bounds in recent years and we could be one step closer to redefining how we do surgery in the future. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has recently developed origami inspired robots that can carry out different types of surgery depending on the shape they take. A ‘Primer’ robot which is mobile can wear different ‘skins’ or sheets of plastic which fold into various shapes around the robot when heated. The exoskeleton then gives the robot a specific “superpower” such as walking or the ability to scoop up objects, all of which is remotely controlled.

The surgical tasks they complete can vary from patching wounds, taking samples and removing objects all while inside the human body. As the program director Daniela Rus explains, ““Imagine taking the engine and swallowing it in the form of a pill, and then swallowing all the exoskeletons that would provide this robot with different tools. You now have a mini-surgeon that can perform procedures inside your body without incisions.” When required, the robot can shed itself of the skin which dissolves when it immerses itself in water and take on another exoskeleton allowing reuse. Not only this but each primer robot can combine with another to perform more difficult tasks.

In the future, researchers believe that this approach to robot design can help make more multifunctional robots in other settings such as deep-sea mining operations or to build colonies in space. As these are locations where wastage of resources is not practical, it is more efficient to send a single robot that can complete many tasks. As Rus points out, “Why update a whole robot when you can just update one part of it?”