How a self-folding robot is making science easier to swallow. Literally.

Sometimes, the best way to solve a problem is to shrink yourself down and crawl inside of it until you find a fix.

Hey, it worked for Ms. Frizzle in "The Magic School Bus," for Ant-Man, for Rick Moranis' entire career, and for, well, let's just say there've been a lot of fantastical stories about epic adventures in miniature.

But this ingestible origami robot is totally real, totally weird, and totally, totally incredible.


GIF via Massachusetts Institute of Technology/YouTube.

The whole idea of an "origami robot" probably evokes images of anime Transformers. But that couldn't be further from the truth — and that's also kind of the point.

This cute little mechanical critter was created by a team of researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). As Steve Guitron, a grad student and one of the project's co-authors, explained in an interview, it began as an attempt to "manufacture robots in a different, inexpensive way than how they're currently created."

By designing a robot that defied the WALL-E or humanoid archetype and didn't rely as much on metals or 3D-machining, they hoped to open the door to new possibilities in applied robotics. You know, like this:

GIF via Massachusetts Institute of Technology/YouTube.

Using Mylar and the wire coil from an electromagnetic motor, they were able to construct a lightweight body that could fold itself up and then flatten out. The actual magnet that controls the motor is separated from the body to cut down on the bulky electronics, and that paper-like maneuverability allows the remote-controlled robot to walk, swim, and carry things.

Also? It's totally biodegradable, and you can 3D-print one and have it ready in less than an hour.

GIF via Massachusetts Institute of Technology/YouTube.

After successfully using the robot to accomplish some basics tasks, the researchers realized that their invention would be perfect for driving around inside someone's body.

There is obviously tremendous potential for this kind of application — targeted delivery of medicine, for example, or removing any of the 3,500 button batteries or other bizarre and dangerous objects that Americans sometimes like to swallow.

Naturally, the researchers 3D-printed a scientifically accurate human digestive tract out of silicon, even going as far as to simulate the gastric fluid in the stomach.

"If we wanted to test to see if it was a feasible thing that could work inside the stomach, we had to make an accurate environment," Guitron said. Because apparently asking strangers on the street, "Hey, do you mind swallowing this electromagnetic folding robot so we can see if our remote control still works?" doesn't work so well.

GIF from "The Magic School Bus."

They also had to find a new bio-compatible material to replace the Mylar they used in earlier trials.

Apparently we're not supposed to swallow Mylar? Who knew?

They tried more than a dozen different structural materials in hopes of finding something that was heat-resistant, lightweight, and structurally rigid while also being soft enough that it could be rolled up or folded without damage.

In the end, they settled on a special kind of dried pig intestine, like the ones used in sausage casings. Yup.

GIF from Massachusetts Institute of Technology/YouTube.

With the origami robot safely in its new sausage home, it was placed inside a pill capsule made of ice and left to roam free around the fake-stomach environment...

In their earliest trial, the researchers were able to locate and take hold of a small button battery that they'd placed into their artificial gut. They were impressed by the efficiency of their adorable little creation. "If the stomach were to move like in a real person, we wondered if the robot could still navigate," Guitron said. "We found that to be relatively true, because the robot can move by thrusting in the water, and by walking on the stomach wall."

(As for what happens after the origami meat robot folds itself around the battery that you foolishly swallowed? You wait for a natural bowel movement and poop it out. Because we live in the future, where humans poop out robots made of sausage.)

GIF from Massachusetts Institute of Technology/YouTube.

While this wacky and wonderful creation isn't quite ready for real human stomachs yet, its potential is incredibly exciting.

According to Guitron, the next steps in the evolution of the origami robot are to see if it can accomplish more advanced tasks, such as patching wounds from the inside. They're also curious to see if they can equip it with tiny cameras or sensors and use it to navigate inside a body and send back images. And then, of course, there's the obvious exponential approach: Can they make it even smaller so it can move through other passages of the body?

The future applications are nearly endless. But for now, it's just nice to know that this little origami meat robot is on our side.

Photo courtesy of Yoplait
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When Benny Mendez asked his middle school P.E. students why they wanted to participate in STOKED—his new after school program where kids can learn to skateboard, snowboard, and surf—their answers surprised him.

I want to be able to finally see the beach, students wrote. I want to finally be able to see the snow.

Never having seen snow is understandable for Mendez's students, most who live in Inglewood, CA, just outside of Los Angeles. But never having been to the beach is surprising, since most of them only live 15-20 minutes from the ocean. Mendez discovered many of them don't even know how to swim.

"A lot of the kids shared that they just want to go on adventures," says Mendez. "They love nature, but...they just see it in pictures. They want to be out there."

Mendez is in his third year of teaching physical education at View Park K-8 school, one of seven Inner City Foundation Education schools in the Los Angeles area. While many of his students are athletically gifted, Mendez says, they often face challenges outside of school that limit their opportunities. Some of them live in neighborhoods where it's unsafe to leave their houses at certain times of day due to gang activity, and many students come to his P.E. class with no understanding of why learning about physical health is important.

"There's a lot going on at home [with my students]," says Mendez. "They're coming from either a single parent home, or foster care. There's a lot of trauma behind what's going on at home...that is out of our control."

Photo courtesy of Yoplait

What Mendez can control is what he gives his students when they're in his care, which is understanding, some structure, and the chance to try new things. Mendez wakes up at 4:00 a.m. most days and often doesn't get home until 9:00 p.m. as he works tirelessly to help kids thrive. Not only does he run after school programs, but he coaches youth soccer on the weekends as well. He also works closely with other teachers and guidance counselors at the school to build strong relationships with students, and even serves as a mentor to his former students who are now in high school.

Now Mendez is earning accolades far and wide for his efforts both in and out of the classroom, including a surprise award from Yoplait and Box Tops for Education.

Yoplait and Box Tops are partnering this school year to help students reach their fullest potential, which includes celebrating teachers and programs that support that mission. Yoplait is committed to providing experiences for kids and families to connect through play, so teaming up with Box Tops provided an opportunity to support programs like STOKED.

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Dr. David McPhee offers advice for talking to someone living in a different time in their head.

Few things are more difficult than watching a loved one's grip on reality slipping away. Dementia can be brutal for families and caregivers, and knowing how to handle the various stages can be tricky to figure out.

The Alzheimer's Association offers tips for communicating in the early, middle and late stages of the disease, as dementia manifests differently as the disease progresses. The Family Caregiver Alliance also offers advice for talking to someone with various forms and phases of dementia. Some communication tips deal with confusion, agitation and other challenging behaviors that can come along with losing one's memory, and those tips are incredibly important. But what about when the person is seemingly living in a different time, immersed in their memories of the past, unaware of what has happened since then?

Psychologist David McPhee shared some advice with a person on Quora who asked, "How do I answer my dad with dementia when he talks about his mom and dad being alive? Do I go along with it or tell him they have passed away?"

McPhee wrote:

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!