September 23, 2017 – If you can make a robot small enough and then give it an arm like the Canadarm on the International Space Station, could you have it build things a molecule at a time? That’s the challenge that scientists at The University of Manchester decided to accept, and voila, the result, a robot a mere one-millionth of a millimeter in size that is programmable, can move and has a tiny robotic arm. They published their results in the September 20, 2017, edition of the journal Nature in an article entitled, “Stereodivergent synthesis with a programmable molecular machine.”
Take a quadrillion of these little guys and you would not take up the space of a grain of salt. You can have billions of them form a microscopic assembly line to build end products at a molecular scale. Or you can send them into the tiniest spaces, such as human capillaries, to make repairs. Each individual robot is capable of manipulating a molecule as small as 150 carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms combined.
States David Leigh, from Manchester’s School of Chemistry, “Our robot is literally a molecular robot constructed of atoms just like you can build a very simple robot out of Lego bricks. The robot then responds to a series of simple commands …. programmed with chemical inputs.”
Microbots on this scale represent a significant disruptor for many reasons. One, they respond to chemistry, not electrical power. And two, because they are so tiny the material requirements for manufacturing using them becomes insignificant.
Leigh sees a revolution on the way with this technology. He states, “molecular robotics represents the ultimate in the miniaturization of machinery …. we anticipate that within 10 to 20 years molecular robots will begin to be used to build molecules and materials on assembly lines in molecular factories.”