“Nanobots” redirects here. For the They Might Be Giants album, see Nanobots (album).
Nanorobotics is the emerging technology field creating machines or robots whose components are at or close to the scale of a nanometre (109 meters). More specifically, nanorobotics refers to the nanotechnology engineering discipline of designing and building nanorobots, with devices ranging in size from 0.110 micrometers and constructed of nanoscale or molecular components. The names nanobots, nanoids, nanites, nanomachines, or nanomites have also been used to describe these devices currently under research and development.
Nanomachines are largely in the research and development phase, but some primitive molecular machines and nanomotors have been tested. An example is a sensor having a switch approximately 1.5 nanometers across, capable of counting specific molecules in a chemical sample. The first useful applications of nanomachines might be in nanomedicine. For example,biological machines could be used to identify and destroy cancer cells. Another potential application is the detection of toxic chemicals, and the measurement of their concentrations, in the environment. Rice University has demonstrated a single-molecule car developed by a chemical process and including buckyballs for wheels. It is actuated by controlling the environmental temperature and by positioning a scanning tunneling microscope tip.
Another definition is a robot that allows precision interactions with nanoscale objects, or can manipulate with nanoscale resolution. Such devices are more related to microscopy or scanning probe microscopy, instead of the description of nanorobots as molecular machine. Following the microscopy definition even a large apparatus such as an atomic force microscope can be considered a nanorobotic instrument when configured to perform nanomanipulation. For this perspective, macroscale robots or microrobots that can move with nanoscale precision can also be considered nanorobots.
According to Richard Feynman, it was his former graduate student and collaborator Albert Hibbs who originally suggested to him (circa 1959) the idea of a medical use for Feynman’s theoretical micromachines (see nanotechnology). Hibbs suggested that certain repair machines might one day be reduced in size to the point that it would, in theory, be possible to (as Feynman put it) “swallow the doctor”. The idea was incorporated into Feynman’s 1959 essay There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.
Since nanorobots would be microscopic in size, it would probably be necessary for very large numbers of them to work together to perform microscopic and macroscopic tasks. These nanorobot swarms, both those incapable of replication (as in utility fog) and those capable of unconstrained replication in the natural environment (as in grey goo and its less common variants[clarification needed]), are found in many science fiction stories, such as the Borg nanoprobes in Star Trek and The Outer Limits episode The New Breed.
Some proponents of nanorobotics, in reaction to the grey goo scenarios that they earlier helped to propagate, hold the view that nanorobots capable of replication outside of a restricted factory environment do not form a necessary part of a purported productive nanotechnology, and that the process of self-replication, if it were ever to be developed, could be made inherently safe. They further assert that their current plans for developing and using molecular manufacturing do not in fact include free-foraging replicators.
The most detailed theoretical discussion of nanorobotics, including specific design issues such as sensing, power communication, navigation, manipulation, locomotion, and onboard computation, has been presented in the medical context of nanomedicine by Robert Freitas. Some of these discussions remain at the level of unbuildable generality and do not approach the level of detailed engineering.
The joint use of nanoelectronics, photolithography, and new biomaterials provides a possible approach to manufacturing nanorobots for common medical applications, such as for surgical instrumentation, diagnosis and drug delivery. This method for manufacturing on nanotechnology scale is currently in use in the electronics industry. So, practical nanorobots should be integrated as nanoelectronics devices, which will allow tele-operation and advanced capabilities for medical instrumentation.
Nubot is an abbreviation for “nucleic acid robot.” Nubots are organic molecular machines at the nanoscale. DNA structure can provide means to assemble 2D and 3D nanomechanical devices. DNA based machines can be activated using small molecules, proteins and other molecules of DNA. Biological circuit gates based on DNA materials have been engineered as molecular machines to allow in-vitro drug delivery for targeted health problems. Such material based systems would work most closely to smart biomaterial drug system delivery, while not allowing precise in vivo teleoperation of such engineered prototypes.
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