Just as how we've created robots to explore places too distant for humans to search, such as the deep sea, advancements on minuscule robotics could potentially lead us “to places that are perhaps too small for humans to go to, for example inside the bloodstream”, says Lulu Qian at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. However, previous tiny robots can't be too small to be put to good use.
But today's researchers created a game-changer: they've developed a robot of the size of a single DNA strand that moves on tiny 6-nanometre steps. The robot has a leg with two feet attached to two arms. “It is one of the first steps towards developing general-purpose DNA robots,” says Qian.
And when tested on a flat 58-by-58-nanometre surface with DNA "stepping stones", it successfully travelled and came into contact with the desired cargo. It then amazingly picked the shipment up and went back to the drop-off point. The robot's pre-programmed chemical composition allowed this to happen.
The technology, however, seemed to be really slow with each single step taking it about 5 minutes! That means it would need the whole day to cover the entire surface. But the researchers are already finding ways to speed it up.
“This is the ultimate example of minuscule robotics, and yet it is still programmable and predictable,” says Robert Cross at the University of Warwick, UK. This could help in ultra-precision medicine as its specific signals or markers, when successful, could one day be used to transport medicines to individual diseased cells thus, lead to more effective treatments.
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