Nanorobotics is an emerging technology field creating machines or robots whose components are at or near the scale of a nanometer (10-9 meters). More specifically, nanorobotics (as opposed to microrobotics) refers to the nanotechnology engineering discipline of designing and building nanorobots, with devices ranging in size from 0.1 to 10 micrometres and constructed of nanoscale or molecular components.
Nanomachines are largely in the research and development phase, but some primitive molecular machines and nanomotors have been tested. An example is a sensor having a switch approximately 1.5 nanometers across, able to count specific molecules in the chemical sample.
The first useful applications of nanomachines may be in nanomedicine. For example, biological machines could be used to identify and destroy cancer cells.
Another potential application is the detection of toxic chemicals, and the measurement of their concentrations, in the environment. Rice University has demonstrated a single-molecule car developed by a chemical process and including Buckminsterfullerenes (buckyballs) for wheels. It is actuated by controlling the environmental temperature and by positioning a scanning tunneling microscope tip.
Another definition is a robot that allows precise interactions with nanoscale objects, or can manipulate with nanoscale resolution. Such devices are more related to microscopy or scanning probe microscopy, instead of the description of nanorobots as molecular machines.
Using the microscopy definition, even a large apparatus such as an atomic force microscope can be considered a nanorobotic instrument when configured to perform nanomanipulation. For this viewpoint, macroscale robots or microrobots that can move with nanoscale precision can also be considered nanorobots.
Manufacturing nanomachines assembled from molecular components is a very challenging task. Because of the level of difficulty, many engineers and scientists continue working cooperatively across multidisciplinary approaches to achieve breakthroughs in this new area of development.
Thus, it is quite understandable the importance of the following distinct techniques currently applied towards manufacturing nanorobots:
- Biochip- The joint use of nanoelectronics, photolithography, and new biomaterials provides a possible approach to manufacturing nanorobots for common medical uses, such as surgical instrumentation, diagnosis, and drug delivery.
- Nubots- A nucleic acid robot (nubot) is an organic molecular machine at the nanoscale.
- Surface-bound systems -Several reports have demonstrated the attachment of synthetic molecular motors to surfaces. These primitive nanomachines have been shown to undergo machine-like motions when confined to the surface of a macroscopic material.
- Positional nanoassembly- focuses on developing a practical research agenda specifically aimed at developing positionally-controlled diamond mechanosynthesis and a diamondoid nanofactory that would have the capability of building diamondoid medical nanorobots.
- Biohybrids- The emerging field of bio-hybrid systems combines biological and synthetic structural elements for biomedical or robotic applications.
- Bacteria-based- This approach proposes the use of biological microorganisms, like the bacterium Escherichia coli and Salmonella typhimurium.