MIT says an army of NanoWalkers (microbots) will be performing sub-atomic operations within three months. The development signals a new era in technology as industry prepares to move "down" from genomes to atoms.
Thumbelina with an attitude: Hundreds of three-legged robots the size of a thumb, complete with onboard computers, powerful microscopes, and biosensors will be ready to manufacture nano-scale materials by mid-2002, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Bioinstrumentation Laboratory. A 'nano' is a measurement of one-billionth of a meter. Only 32 millimeters in diameter, the microbots are designed to manipulate atoms. Responding to infrared signals allowing each microbot to act independently or collectively on myriad tasks, the little machines (dubbed "NanoWalkers") are capable of executing 48 million instructions and making 4,000 nano-maneuvers per second. MIT expects to have at least 300 microbots hard at work in an enclosed card-table sized chromium chamber by June. The chromium surface provides an energy source for the robots which will receive their marching orders from a master computer in the box's ceiling.(i)
The micro-army is expected to manipulate individual molecules and even re-arrange atoms. Capable of making 200,000 measurements per second, the machines may initially be used to analyze chemicals and to assist in the development of new pharmaceuticals. However, there is no obvious limit to their job description - including the assembly and repair of fellow microbots and the eventual construction of still-tinier nanobots.