Swiss city of Lausanne Federal Institute of Technology scientists have announced a scientific paper that describes the creation of mechanisms from gelatin. This technology may eventually allow robots to be edible.
The research is still at an early stage and teaching staff are not yet fully aware of who might benefit from this technology. Institute of intelligent systems laboratory director Dario Floreano has confirmed that the team’s work is not completely logical. The project evolved solely out of a desire to create something new- to create such a mechanism the researchers initially did not plan to resolve any concerns.
“A year ago, grad 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’,” D.Floreano explains. “I thought that’s very interesting. Food and robots have very different constraints and properties. Even before thinking about what we could make out of them, I though it was a very interesting challenge to see if we can marry these two fields.”
Floreano lists off a number of potential applications for edible robots, including food that can walk itself to hotter or colder locations or inch its way toward the human or animal it’s looking to feed. What’s more immediately compelling is the possibility of delivering automated medication.
“That’s definitely a very interesting application,” says Floreano, “because you may carry pharmaceutical components to a location where you want them to have an effect.”
The research follows a similar study issued by MIT last year that detailed the creation of an origami robot made from dried pig intestines that essentially unfolds in an attempt to capture and removed harmful swallowed items, like batteries. What potentially sets EPFL’s research apart is the creation of fully digestible actuators that can be broken down by the human body.
The creation of the actuators is part of the team’s ongoing research into soft robotics, a sub-field of robotics inspired by nature that make for components that better comply with their environment. Notable applications for the technology include robotic grippers capable of conforming to a wide variety of different shapes.
Once inside the body, the robots could utilize internal chemical reactions to drive movement. They could also leverage non-toxic batteries designed as part of the growing field of edible electronics that can’t be digested but can pass through the body without harm.