Scientists create robot nano-spiders

Scientists in Columbia, Arizona, Michigan, and California have developed robotic nano spiders that could one day be used inside humans to heal injuries.

The latest nanotechnology development involved programming an autonomous molecular DNA-based robot dyed green to start, move, turn, and stop while following a DNA substrate track as it tried to reach its red-dyed goal.

Of course, this is no R2D2. When are we going to get those? But it still qualifies as a robot, according to Caltech professor Erik Winfree, who said the traditional view of a robot is “a machine that senses its environment, makes a decision, and then does something.” These new nano-bots certainly do that.

Robots are already in place in hospitals around the world, sometimes performing detailed operations that require a steadier hand or more precision than a human being is capable of.

This development of microscopic robots will allow operations that were previously impossible or required more invasive surgery. For example, the spiders could be programmed to sense the presence of disease within a cell, decide that it is cancerous, and then act on that decision by delivering an anti-cancerous drug.

That is not the extent to which this technology could be used, however. Chips and other small devices could be assembled by this nano-bots if programmed appropriately – so we’d be able to say “the robots at Intel” without getting a slap on the wrist.

The problem with molecules is that they are too small to hold the information necessary for programming, meaning that this information needs to be stored around the molecule itself. It could be attached to the molecule or placed in its surrounding environment.

Previous attempts at making nano-bots showed an ability for them to walk roughly three steps. The current four nanometer in diameter molecular robot can walk roughly 50 steps, which is a substantial improvement on the old model and means a collective could technically win in a fight against a dalek.

The research is going on, but the scientists revealed that the next step is to add a second nano-bot, so that both can communicate with each other directly and via their environment. “The spiders will work together to accomplish a goal,” said Milan N. Stojanovic of Columbia University.

A paper on this subject can be found in the latest issue of the Nature science journal.