We’ve always assumed that robots derive their marching orders from us humans and our programming skills, but sometimes, we’re just unnecessary. Such is the case, at least, with the minuscule autonomous robots that are now being implemented to repair broken circuits too microscopic for the naked human eye to see. Abiding by the rules of Mother Nature, these nanobots act at the whims of their environment, and now, scientists are indirectly leveraging that obedience to our human advantage.
Built by Joseph Wang of the University of California at San Diego and Anna Balazs of the University of Pittsburgh, the two scientists looked to our own biology in order to develop these mini bots. Hoping to create machines that work much like our blood platelets (which immediately rush to the site of a cut to begin healing the wound), the team took gold and platinum Janus particles and poured them into a hydrogen peroxide solution. Once this happens, the reaction between the platinum and hydrogen peroxide causes oxygen to be released so quickly that it essentially shoots the nanobots forward with jet-like propulsion.
This process sends the little robots into desired locations, where the gold particles are able to effectively “heal” cracks in electrical wiring.
To test their new invention, Wang and Balazs poured the hydrogen peroxide solution (containing the mini robots) onto a broken circuit. The root of the problem was a tiny scratch less than a tenth the width of a human hair that prevented a battery from turning on an LED light. Once the nanobots were sent into battle, the scientists found that when they turned the battery on, the light was working again.
The implications behind such a discovery are extensive, as scientists can now look for ways in which nature can power little robots, rather than relying on code to do the job. So don’t think that your only exposure to automatons will be through computer science. You could even major in chemistry and find yourself controlling some of these little guys.