Carnegie Mellon pursues top-down path to nanorobots

John Brandon at PC Magazine does a close-up on the NanoRobotics Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon:

Tiny robots will someday crawl up your spine—literally. These microscopic critters, currently in a development phase at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, are biomimetic (that is, based on biological principles), have bacteria motors attached to their near-invisible bodies, and can slither through water canals and probe deep into blood vessels to stop disease and administer medicine.

One day, these nanobots could even transport microscopic cameras into your brain to help scan for abnormalities or cancerous cells, which is a kind of early detection that’s not possible with current imaging technology. Like the spiders in Minority Report, they’ll also aid in homeland security, deep-space exploration, and environmental monitoring (read: global warming research)—except that no one will ever see them or even give them credit.

Of course, if you ask Carnegie Mellon professor Metin Sitti about nanobots, he will sing their praises. Working at CMU’s NanoRobotics Laboratory in Pittsburgh, Sitti is a nanotechnology pioneer…

“We are envisioning building smaller and smaller robots with many new locomotion capabilities such as climbing, swimming, flying, and walking on water,” says Setti, who is originally from Turkey but was educated at the University of Tokyo. “Our latest nanobots are inspired by water striders and basilisk lizards; they are submillimeter swimming robots that use water-locomotion principles.”

At a NASA nanotech meeting in August 2004, Prof. Sitti gave his timing projections: 5-10 yrs: nanoassembly, nanomanufacturing, hybrid biotic/abiotic robots. After 10 years: atomic and molecular scale manufacturing. He explained that complexity will be a challenge: controlling and programming. He looks forward to “tremendous benefits for humanity.” Sitti is Chair of the IEEE Nanotechnology Council’s Technical Committee on Nanorobotics and Nanomanufacturing. Go, CMU! —Christine

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