Researchers in Switzerland have developed an edible pneumatic actuator that they claim could pave the way for a new generation of metabolisable robots able to crawl around the inside of body, and deliver drugs directly to where they’re needed.
The team, from the Intelligent Systems Lab at EPFL, have demonstrated a 90mm long device made from a gelatin-glycerol composite, which, according to a paper on the research, exhibits many of the same performance characteristics of the more traditional elastomers used in soft robotics applications.
The actuator is formed of multiple separated chambers which can be selectively inflated by the injection of pressurised air – thereby causing the structure to bend.
During tests, the team demonstrated how two edible actuators could be integrated to form a gripper capable of grasping various objects – including an apple, and orange and a boiled egg.
Though the research is currently at a very early stage, the group envisages a range of future applications and capabilities for the technology.
As well as healthcare applications, another potential application of the technology is as an edible rescue robot, that could be used to locate survivors trapped in hard to reach places, who would be able to eat their rescuer once it has fed back their position to rescue services. The team also suggests that future devices based on the concept could be equipped with a self-eating function – whereby the robot could consume parts of itself in order to generate energy and prolong its lifetime.