Electronic cell-sized nanobots can sense their environment, store data.

Nanorobotics is the development of machines or robots whose components are on the scale of the nanometre.  Theoretical discussions involving nanobots cover specific design issues such as sensing, power communication, navigation, manipulation, locomotion, and onboard computation. However, some of these hypotheses remain at the planning stage, with engineering unable to miniaturize technologies needed.  Now, a study from researchers at MIT develops electronic cell-sized robots capable of sensing their environment, storing data, and performing computational tasks. The team states their devices, roughly the size of a human egg cell, consist of tiny electronic circuits made of two-dimensional materials, piggybacking on minuscule particles called colloids.  The study is published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Previous studies have shown insoluble particles or molecules known as colloids, are so small they can stay suspended indefinitely in a liquid or even in the air. By coupling these tiny objects to complex circuitry, researchers hope to lay the groundwork for devices with the capability to carry out diagnostic journeys through the human digestive system, oil and gas pipelines, or wafting through the air to measure compounds inside a chemical processor or refinery.  The current study grafts complete, intact electronic circuits onto colloidal particles to create self-powered nanobots.

The current study develops self-powered nanobots requiring no external power source or internal batteries. Results show a simple photodiode provides the electricity needed for the nanobots’ circuitry to power their computational and memory circuits. Data findings show this autonomous power supply is enough to enable the nanobots to sense information about their environment, store this data in their memory, and then later have the data readout after accomplishing their mission.

The lab states their nanodevices are autonomous particles containing electronics for power generation, computation, logic, and memory storage.  They go on to add their nanobots are powered by light and contain tiny retroreflectors allowing them to be easily located and probed to deliver their data.  They conclude their machines may find widespread application as sensors in confined environments, such as the human digestive tract, oil and gas conduits, chemical and biosynthetic reactors.

The team surmises they have developed a cell-sized, self-powered nanobot capable of floating in liquid or gas whilst attached to colloid particles.  For the future, the researchers now plan to allow the nanobots to communicate the data they’ve gathered without the need for physical contact.

Source: MIT News Office

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