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Nanotechnology: A wireless robot works under a microscope

A mini robot under development at MIT will be autonomous and be able to take ten thousand steps per second

Avi Blizovsky

The assembly line robot of the future will work hard, but its supervisors will need Microsoft to watch over it. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, are building a fleet of wireless robots, each no larger than a coin, capable of performing all manufacturing operations - at the molecular level.
Sylvian Martel, an MIT researcher, told the website TechExtreme that these robots, called NanoWalkers, will be able to synthesize new drugs and chemicals, as well as of course DNA molecules, as well as assist a wide range of research in biology and biotechnology.
According to Martel, most people, when they think of assembly line robots, they imagine a car assembly line. However, most of the robots employed today perform tasks on a much smaller scale than the robots of the automotive industry. They help the pharmaceutical industry and biotechnology companies. Martel heads the team working on the NanoWalkers at the Bioinstrumentation Laboratory at MIT.

However, most of these robots, says Martel, are not independent and are in fixed locations. Also they are very slow as they take one step at a time. They are also relatively imprecise and therefore only able to perform simple tasks such as moving components from one place to another.

In contrast, the mini-robots under development at MIT will be patient-independent and designed to be able to take ten thousand steps per second. They will also be able to move in three dimensions with ten million times better precision than current robots.
Another fundamental difference is that the new robots will not only perform moves and lifts. They are also designed to act as precise measuring tools. These systems are designed to perform 200 atomic-scale measurements per second." Martel says. "Unlike laboratory robots that may move samples from one instrument to another, these miniature robots were built to function as scientific instruments.
The NanoWalkers are controlled by infrared links built into the robots' bodies. Cameras target their position and orient them to the general location of their work on the table.
Positioning systems help robots aim for specific sites and some of the NanoWalkers include a scanning microscope to take pictures and perform operations on atoms.
NanoWalkers, are still in the research phase, although the MIT researchers are looking for industry partners to try them in the workplace.

The original news, in English

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