Some recent work with macroscopic robots is aimed at developing the sorts of capabilities that are often envisioned for future nanorobotic systems:
- A press release from 14 December 2001 tells of a research team at the University of Wisconsin at Madison is conducting work with small networks of distributed sensors to provide pervasive monitoring of terrain for military applications. The network is made up of hundreds of sensors that send information to collecting nodes. The aim is to develop in smart, low-cost integrated devices containing many different types of sensors, wireless transceivers and processors with significant computing capabilities collects data from hundreds of similarly disguised wireless microelectromechanical (MEMS) sensors and relays it to an unmanned aircraft that pieces together the information to identify vehicles (such as a tank) or other objects moving across the landscape.
- A lengthy article on the Small Times website ("Nanoresearchersí little helpers come equipped with tiny tool belt", by M. Downs, 19 December 2001) describes work by robotics researcher Sylvain Martel at the Nano-Robotics Research Group within the MIT BioInstrumentation Laboratory, who has created small mobile robots, which he calls NanoWalkers, that he intends to equip with "scanning-tunneling microscope (STM) tips for imaging and nudging atoms, some with atomic force tips for working on nonconductive materials, others with micromanipulators for moving and assembling micron-size parts, and eventually even atoms. They'll also have an array of other tools for nanoscale deposition, etching, machining and imaging." The article says Martel started with an STM tip because it is a critical tool for atomic-scale imaging, but also because he had some experience with traditional STMís. The group hopes to go on and add a variety of tools to the basic platform, including Confocal laser microscopy, raman microscopy, mechanical and electrical impedance imaging, thermo-imaging, microinjection and micromachining. Whether these robotic systems can be scaled down to perform useful work at the nanoscale is uncertain.