Holy Fantastic Voyage, Batman. A team from Rice University has developed single-molecule nanosubmarines that could eventually be used to deliver medicines directly inside the body.
One of science fiction's biggest unfulfilled promises are medical nanobots: tiny little machines that will run around your body and right nature's wrongs. Scientists from the University of Houston are setting out to change all of that, with an incredibly clever self-assembling robotic gun that can clear blockages or inject drugs from inside your body.
There's tiny revolution afoot in medicine, where micro-sized and nano-sized robots will someday cruise around inside our bodies, zeroing in on cancerous cells or repairing damaged but otherwise healthy ones. But before those ideas all become reality, those bots need a power source inside our bodies. That power source could be stomach acid.
Researchers want to use microscopic nanobots for drug delivery and other tasks inside the human body, but there are still places the micro machines can't get. Now, scientists have made the smallest bot yet, a magnet-guided corkscrew so tiny, it can sneak through the pores in human connective tissue.
A team of Dutch engineers just published the details of a curious new invention: tiny robotic sperm that can be controlled with a weak magnetic field. Like real sperm, these so-called MagnetoSperm flip their tails to swim towards their target. Unlike real sperm, they're made of metal-coated polymer.
Move over bristlebot: Europe's I-SWARM program is developing some similarly small but much smarter micro 'bots that could be used to build human colonies on Mars. The tiny machines would be dispersed in huge numbers, working automatically and independently, and also collaborating together to form larger compound 'bots able to do physical stuff like moving rocks out of the way.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have begun work on creating tiny groups of robots that utilise electromagnetic forces to alter their shape and function. Ultimately, the team hopes to build a large number of microscopic robots that are able to metamorphose into any conceivable shape. This would be done by applying a charge to the nanobots, which would form different structures based on how, or where, that charge is applied. The concept is not too dissimilar to the material that was shown to be used for Batman's cape in Batman Begins. That similarity makes this research instantly awesome.
Scientists are investigating the possibility of using the "tiny assembly line that powers the whip-like tail of sperm" to send medical nanobots racing throughout the body. In order to work, these devices would have to be made from biomedical components —and at that size, "biology would provide the best functional motors." This approach seems bizarre, but apparently it could help solve the problem of supplying energy to thousands of minuscule internal devices that can fight or ward off disease. How long it will be before these spermbot slave drivers become a reality is anyone's guess.
The GM OnStar Ant vehicle uses a Nanorb wheel system, "independent robots that can arrange themselves in any configuration" along with artificial muscles called "electro-active polymer actuators" to change the position of its body panels. It's probably made of adamantium too and it can transform itself faster than you can say "Optimus Prime" into any kind of vehicle, a shelter and, I bet, even in a killer ninja robot if programmed correctly. Fortunately for humans, is just a concept for the Robocar 2057 Design Challenge.