Robots Don't Wear Belts, Science!

Robots Don’t Where Belts: Nanobots

There is an old saying that goes “bigger is better” and considering the vastness of the universe we occupy, it’s easy to understand why we human beings might feel compelled to build bigger and better technological achievements. But while our universe may be infinitely large its secrets are microscopically small. For instance, a living cell, the building block for all life on our planet, can be as small as 5 µm. What is µm stand for? Micrometer, one-millionth of a meter. Viruses can reach sizes as small as 7.0xl0-7 µm3. Which is colloquially known in the scientific community as being really freaking tiny. If humanity wishes to master its world and itself it will need to build tools that can operate in the microscopic realm. And that brings us to the subject of this edition of Robots Don’t Where Belts: Nanobots.
Nanobots are robots created at the scale of a nanometre (10-9 meters). The are two kinds of nanotechnology. The first is biological nanotech that uses DNA and protein strands to create new biological structures. The second is the more traditional nanobot model where a nano-machine uses atoms to 3D print just about any stable structure imaginable. Not only can these robots build more of themselves out of just about any substance available to them, if the technology reaches its full potential these nanobots could effectively build anything imaginable by using any material imaginable. The possibilities are endless. Cracking nano-technology would bring about a change in human existence that goes beyond even the advent of the internet or the industrial revolution.
Think about some of the things we could accomplish. Microscopic machines running around our bodies time releasing needed medicines and targeting dangerous cells. Tiny robots scrubbing the pollution from the air we breathe and repairing the ozone. Renewable energy generated at a sub-atomic scale. Nanobots could even be sent ahead to distant worlds and build human habitats in anticipation of our arrival.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’re still a long way away from some of those applications. Though not as far as you might think. In Germany, a group of researchers from the University of Mainz recently built the smallest engine ever clocking in at just a single atom. The engine relies on electromagnetic energy to heat and cool it, creating a piston-like effect that generates movement. Meanwhile, at Ohio State University, they’ve created nanomachines that can create complex parts out of DNA opening the doors for all sorts components and machines to be made by the nanobots themselves. Other researchers are working on technologies that will allow nanobots to swim through bodily fluids and to exert physical force on their environment far beyond their own size. All of these advancements bode well for the future of this robotics technology but perhaps the breakthrough that resonates most with the layperson is one that comes from Arizona State University. There, researchers have successfully used nanobots to treat cancerous tumors in mice. The nanobots inject the blood vessels around the tumors with blood clotting drugs that cut off their blood supply thus inhibiting their ability to grow and spread. In some cases, the tumors even shrunk.
Of all the types of technology we’ve talked about on this blog, none has the potential to change what it means to be human the way nanotechnology does. In all likelihood, the world thirty years from now will look nothing like it does now. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing I cannot say. But I do believe none of us are truly prepared for what is coming.

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