A microbot a day keeps the doctor away: Scientists close to perfecting edible gelatin nanobots

New and improved vitamins, now with more robot!

New and improved vitamins, now with more robot!

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

The advent of robotic tech has put the career prospects of doctors somewhere on the same uneasy spectrum as the rest of us: forecast uncertain. One thing is sure though, Flintstones vitamins are likely going the way of the caveman.

Researchers are inching ever closer to a nutrient delivery system that could literally troubleshoot illness out of your body, or just make sure your potassium levels are on point. Edible, gelatinous and built with the power to heal and nourish from within: parents of the future could be ensuring their kids have taken their nanobot every night.

Any readers tempted to balk at the idea as the far-fetched science of tomorrow should consider that this is, in fact, the science of today. Just last week in Vancouver, during the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, researchers shared their prototype for a "gelatin-based actuator" – which is robot science speak for tiny gummy robot leg, kind of. Presenters from Switzerland's École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) explained that the boxy looking caterpillar would allow a nanobot to meander about your inner workings dispensing vitamins, meds and medical procedures at will. The dawn of the micro health sentinel. Interesting as many experts don't like the idea of robots near our bodies, let alone in them.

Actuators allow for mechanized mobility (again, think caterpillar legs or a tank tread). Whatever your thoughts on ingesting what is essentially a robotic bug for optimal vigor, the usefulness of a health bot you swallow could prove quite broad. The researchers report that "the components of such edible robots could be mixed with nutrient or pharmaceutical components for digestion and metabolization". Or, you know, laser blast anything that looks malignant. Hope their aim is sharp.    

What happens to the beneficial bot when it's done its duty? You digest it, of course. Experts behind the actuator added, "potential applications are disposable robots for exploration, digestible robots for medical purposes in humans and animals, and food transportation where the robot does not require additional payload because the robot is the food." Yum.

A potential boon for preventative medicine in humans, the applications extend into zoology too. "Fully edible robots would help to study how wild animals collectively behave. The robots could also take a role of animals prey to observe their hunting behaviors, or to train protected animals to do predation." In case that needs clarification, yes, that means robots teaching predatory and protected species, like say, wolverines, how to hunt. A nice wrinkle to add to your own robopocalypse nightmare scenarios. Still, equal parts awesome and terrifying. Make mine cherry flavoured and I'm in.

Ultimately the goal of poppable (if not palatable) robotics is a decidedly positive one: "Once medical components are mixed into the edible composition, the robots could help preservation of wild animals or heal the inside of the human body."

Down the hatch.