One-molecule robot to be presented at January's TEDxCaltech conference

A major advance in molecular robotics and structural DNA nanotechnology occurred last May with the publication in Nature of two papers, each of which describes a new DNA nanorobot that walks across a landscape made from DNA origami (see Nanodot post “DNA-based ‘robotic’ assembly begins“). In one paper the nanorobot moved 50 steps autonomously. In the other paper a more complex but less autonomous nanorobot picked up nanoparticle cargo as it moved. presents a Caltech news feature written by Dave Zobel. Voyage of the DNA Treader announces that one of the coauthors of the first paper will present at January’s TEDxCaltech conference:

Make way for the incredible shrinking robot!

Richard Feynman was right: there is plenty of room at the bottom, and the beeping, lumbering trashcans of 1950s science fiction are gradually giving way to micro-droids the size of a speck of dust . . . or even a molecule.

But this new breed of invisibly tiny robots raises a new question: how can even rudimentary intelligence be squeezed into something whose largest moving part consists of a handful of atoms? One solution, says Caltech graduate student in computation and neural systems Nadine Dabby, is to build the smarts into the environment instead.

At January’s TEDxCaltech conference, Dabby will present a one-molecule robot capable of following a trail of chemical breadcrumbs. A paper she co-authored in Nature last May describes a “molecular spider” that can be coaxed to “walk” down a predetermined path. …

And what does a nano-bot in action look like? Using fluorescent markers and atomic-force microscopy, the team successfully produced a short and rather grainy “movie” of a spider actually making its sticky-footed way up the garden path.

With a pace measured in nanometers per minute, the tiny tripper isn’t likely to break any land speed records. Nevertheless, Dabby muses, given a few enhancements to its ability to interpret and alter its molecular environment, the robot could function as a biological computer, executing arbitrarily complex algorithms.

That first small step down a tiny trail of DNA just might represent one giant leap for bot-kind.

The list of speakers/performers for TEDxCaltech—Feynman’s Vision: The Next 50 Years includes beside the category “Nanoscience and Future Biology” the categories “Conceptualization and Visualization in Science” and “Frontiers of Physics”.

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