Tiny Edible Batteries Could Power The Medical Robots That Will Fix You From The Inside

They're completely safe... honest.

24/08/2016 15:16

For decades, doctors have dreamed of using tiny robots to treat and diagnose illnesses. But the technology has long been held back by harmful chemicals in conventional batteries. 

Now, scientists have discovered a new way of making non-toxic edible batteries that could speed up the development of ingestible devices. 

Searching for potential materials, scientists struck upon the idea of using melanin and other naturally occurring compounds to assemble the batteries.

In our skin, hair and eyes, melanins absorb ultra violet light, protecting us from damage. But like a battery, they also happen to bind and unbind metallic ions.

Hang-Ah Park, Ph.D., a post-doctoral researcher at CMD, said: “We found basically that they work.

“The exact numbers depend on the configuration, but as an example, we can power a 5 milliWatt device for up to 18 hours using 600 milligrams of active melanin material as a cathode.”

Bettinger lab

The batteries could allow medical scientists to develop a range of new treatments. 

Drug delivery is one application that could lead to a whole new approach to medicine. 

Non-toxic, degradable batteries would be ideal for drug delivery devices that are many to be swallowed. 

Christopher Bettinger, Ph.D, said: “The beauty is that by definition an ingestible, degradable device is in the body for no longer than 20 hours or so.

“Even if you have marginal performance, which we do, that’s all you need.”

It’s not yet clear when the batteries will be incorporated into medical devices, but the team is now planning to develop packaging materials that will deliver the battery to the stomach. 

The research was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.

The robots that will change our lives

  • 1 Robots that can deliver other robots:
    Amazon Prime Air is a drone delivery service which the company is currently testing. The company aims to deliver products within just 30 minutes of the customer pressing the 'order' button. (AP Photo/Amazon)
  • 2 Robots that could soon be saving lives:
    MARK RALSTON via Getty Images
    The robot 'CHIMP' developed by Team Tartan Rescue from the US prepares to complete a task during the finals of the DARPA Robotics Challenge. It is hoped that these robots will eventually replace emergency services workers during events like the Fukushima nuclear disaster. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
  • 3 Robots that can carry your stuff:
    MARK RALSTON via Getty Images
    A robotic cheetah runs during a demonstration at the finals of the DARPA Robotics Challenge. DARPA's four-legged robots have been designed to carry supplies and ammunition for the US Army. Capable of travelling over tough terrain the hope is that these will eventually replace the need for trucks or small vehicles. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
  • 4 Robots that can kill:
    AFP via Getty Images
    A sentry robot freezes a hypothetical intruder by pointing its machine gun during its test in Cheonan. South Korea unveiled a high-tech, machine gun-toting sentry robot that could support its troops in detecting and killing intruders along the heavily fortified border with North Korea. The weapons-grade robot can detect, raise the alarm and provide suppressive fire. (KIM DONG-JOO/AFP/Getty Images)
  • 5 Robots that can race each other:
    YOSHIKAZU TSUNO via Getty Images
    Japan's motorcycle maker Yamaha Motor introduces the prototype model of a motorcycle riding robot 'Motobot' during a press preview at the Tokyo Motor Show in Tokyo on 28, 2015. (YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)
  • 6 Robots that are toys:
    The Sphero BB-8 remote controlled droid is on display at CES Unveiled, a media preview event for CES International, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Las Vegas. The robot is controlled by an app for a mobile device. (AP Photo/John Locher)
  • 7 Robots that will do your weekly shop:
    A new delivery drone company plans to revolutionise the way we do our shopping by replacing your weekly trip to Sainsbury's with a tiny delivery robot which will bring your fruit and veg straight to your door. (Starship Technologies)
Suggest a correction