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 a nanometre.  Theoretical discussion of nanobots, involve 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 which can sense their environment, store data, and even carry out computational tasks. The team state that their devices, which are 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 show that colloids, insoluble particles or molecules, are so small they can stay suspended indefinitely in a liquid or even in air. By coupling these tiny objects to complex circuitry, researchers hope to lay the groundwork for devices that could be dispersed to carry out diagnostic journeys through anything from the human digestive system to oil and gas pipelines, or perhaps to waft through 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 nanobots which are self-powered, and require no external power source or internal batteries. Results show that a simple photodiode provides the electricity needed for the nanobots’ circuitry to power their computational and memory circuits. Data findings show that this autonomous power supply is enough to enable them to sense information about their environment, store those data in their memory, and then later have the data read out after accomplishing their mission.

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

The team surmise that they have developed a cell-sized, self-powered nanobot capable of floating in liquid or gas, which piggy-back on colloid particles.  For the future, the researchers 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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