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Scientists Construct Nanotechnology Robots

If you think robots are cool, you’ll be interested to hear that nanotechnology researchers are developing cell-sized nano-robots that have a propulsion system, sensors, manipulators, and possibly even an on-board computer that can perform tasks on nanoscale objects. Nanorobots are definitely not ready for prime time, but researchers do have a vision of what they will look like.

A 12-arm nanorobot which, in swarms, could join to build virtually anything. [Credit: Courtesy of J
Credit: Courtesy of J. Storrs Hall
A 12-arm nanorobot which, in swarms, could join to build virtually anything.
Nanorobots at work in the bloodstream. [Credit: Courtesy of Hybrid Medical Animation]
Credit: Courtesy of Hybrid Medical Animation
Nanorobots at work in the bloodstream.

Researchers are exploring the following two avenues for constructing nanorobots:

  • One approach is to build the nanorobots from atoms or molecules using mechanosynthesis. In this method, the bulk of the nanorobot might be made up of carbon atoms, giving the nanorobot a strong, lightweight, diamondoid structure.

  • The other method is to build nanorobots using existing biological components such as proteins. The proteins in our bodies already have capabilities, such as the capability to transform energy from molecules in the body into motion. This capability could be used to transport a nanorobot through the bloodstream.

    Other proteins have the capability to perform surgery at the cellular level, for example, to cut away defective portions of a DNA strand, triggering the reconstruction or repair of the strand. Researchers are working on combining biological molecules, such as proteins, either with other biological molecules or nanoparticles such as carbon nanotubes to create bionanorobots.

Although it may be possible to build more capabilities into nanorobots constructed through mechanosynthesis than biologically based nanorobots, the biological versions will probably become a reality much sooner.

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