Microscopic robots might sound like the plot of a futuristic novel, but they are very real. In fact, nanotechnology has been a point of great interest for scientists for decades. In the past few years, research and experimentation have seen nanotechnology’s science develop in new and fascinating ways.
In this episode of Short and Sweet AI, I delve into the topic of microscopic robots. The possibilities and capabilities of nanobots are something to keep a watchful eye on as research into nanotechnology starts to pick up speed.
You can listen to this episode below or keep reading to find out more.
You can listen to the episode below or keep reading to learn more.
From science fiction to reality
In the book ‘Super Sad True Love Story’ by Gary Shteyngart, which is set in the future, wealthy people pay for life extension treatments. This is called “dechronification” and works by infusing “smart blood” into their veins containing swarms of microscopic robots. These tiny robots are about 100 nanometers long and work to rejuvenate cells and remodel major organs via the bloodstream. This means that the wealthy get to live for over a century.
This book was my first introduction to the idea of microscopic robots, also known as nanobots. However, nanotechnology isn’t just a science fiction plot anymore. It is an emerging field of designing and building robots that are just nanometers long.
To put it in perspective, atoms and molecules are measured in nanometers. A red blood cell is about 7,000 nanometers, while a DNA molecule is two and a half nanometers.
Research into nanobots is picking up speed
The father of nanotechnology is considered to be Richard Feynman, who won the Nobel Prize in physics. In 1959, he gave a talk called “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” By “bottom,” he means size, specifically the size of atoms. In his talk, he discussed a theoretical process for manipulating atoms and molecules, which has become the core field of nanoscience.
Microscopic robots are about the size of a cell and are based on the same basic technology as computer chips. However, creating an exoskeleton for robotic arms and getting them to move in a controllable way has been a big challenge.
In the last few years, Marc Miskin, a professor of electrical and systems engineering, and his colleagues created a new design concept. Their idea was to pair 50 years of microelectronics with circuit boards to create limbs for the robots. They then had the idea to use a power source in the form of tiny solar panels on its back. They discovered that by shining lasers on the solar panel, they could control the robot’s movements.
You can see this in action on a video from 2020 that showed a battalion of microscopic robots in a coordinated “march.”
The genius thing about Miskin’s work is that the robot’s brain is based on computer chip technology – the very same concepts that power our computers and phones. This means that because they are based on a well-understood manufacturing process, they are easy and cheap to produce.
Another thing that makes this interesting is that the robots can be integrated with other circuits to respond to more complex commands.
Could microscopic robots be used in healthcare?
These nanobots can be equipped with sensors to report on conditions in whatever environment they’re in. One of the most interesting potential uses of nanobots is in medicine and healthcare.
These tiny robots are capable of being injected through a syringe and will still maintain their structure and function. The potential applications for this could be ground-breaking in the medical field.
Like in the novel ‘Super Sad True Love Story,’ we could one day see nanobots injected into our bloodstream. These nanobots may one day deliver cancer drugs in the body, exactly where they’re needed without harming other tissues. We could see them reduce plaque in arteries or treat hard-to-reach areas of the human body with microsurgery.
Nanobots and connecting our brains to the cloud
The author of ‘Super Sad True Love Story,’ Gary Shteyngart, has credited his ideas to Ray Kurzweil, who you may have heard me speak about many times before.
Kurzweil believes that nanotechnology will allow us to one day merge humans and technology. As he said several years ago, “these robots will go into the brain and provide virtual and augmented reality from within the nervous system rather than from devices attached to the outside of our bodies. The most important application … is that we will connect the top layers of our neocortex to the synthetic cortex in the cloud.”
Would you connect your brain to the cloud? What if you could store your consciousness in the cloud after you die? That’s a concept that was chillingly depicted in the short story, ‘Remembrance.’
The idea of tiny robots in your body might sound crazy or something that could only belong in a science fiction novel, but nanobots are real. Maybe one day, they will be flowing through our bloodstream.