Robots come in all shapes and sizes, and can be used for an unending range of functions (see my blog on personal robots here) – but one that is gaining real interest at the moment, though it has long is the use of tiny robots which can be injected into our bodies. As you can imagine, in order for these robots to be small enough to fit inside our blood stream we are talking really tiny - we’re talking about nanorobots.

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The IEEE – a large, global professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for humanity – have found that advancements in small robots, ranging from nanorobots to shoebox-sized robots, hold promise for delivering innovative and life-altering future applications. This mini-series explores the use for nanorobots in healthcare, morphogenic robots and robots for search and rescue.

Artist’s visualisation of a nano-robot manipulation a red blood cell. Courtesy IEEE.

Artist’s visualisation of a nano-robot manipulation a red blood cell. Courtesy IEEE.

Robots come in all shapes and sizes, and can be used for an unending range of functions (see my blog on personal robots here) – but one that is gaining real interest at the moment, though it has long been the subject of science fiction, is the use of tiny robots which can be injected into our bodies. As you can imagine, in order for these robots to be small enough to fit inside our blood stream we are talking really tiny – we’re talking about nanorobots.

So what are Nanorobots?

Nanorobots are so small that they are not visible to the naked eye

Nanorobots are so small that they are not visible to the naked eye – the nanoscale is 10-9 – to put this into context 100 nanoparticles are only as thick as a piece of paper.

Nanotechnology is a multidisciplinary science and involves research from a broad range of areas such as computer science, biology, electronics, mechanics, philosophy, ethics and law.

Dr. Gregory Fahy described all living organisms as “naturally-existing, fabulously complex systems of molecular nanotechnology.” His statement (taken from our article Nanorobots: Medicince of the Future) raises the interesting possibility that machines constructed at the molecular level might cure the human body of its various ills. This application of nanotechnology to the field of medicine is commonly called “nanomedicine“.

Currently, research into nanorobots for healthcare at MIT is producing very promising results and could transform the way we treat disease in the future.

One such area of research is in the treatment of cancer. By injecting pre-programmed nanorobots into the bloodstream that go straight to the tumour, the cancer could be treated with extreme accuracy. At present cancer drugs systematically increase the toxicity of the whole body – even the areas that are 100% healthy – and this is the reason that patients get very sick and often lose their hair. When nanorobots attack the tumour specifically however, the chemotherapy that they deliver can be 1000 times more powerful than using drugs, and wouldn’t cause the distressing side effects that patients experience now.

MIT is producing very promising results and could transform… the treatement of cancer

This is still an area under research and some of the biggest questions in the field at the moment are:

  • How can robots locate where they should go?
  • How do they operate once they get there?
  • How do we control them?
  • How do they leave the body?
The small size of nanoparticles endows them with properties that can be very useful in oncology, particularly in imaging. A schematic illustration showing how nanoparticles or other cancer drugs might be used to treat cancer. Via Wikipedia

The small size of nanoparticles endows them with properties that can be very useful in oncology, particularly in imaging. A schematic illustration showing how nanoparticles or other cancer drugs might be used to treat cancer. Via Wikipedia

Philosophically speaking, we mustn’t forget that we’re talking about putting robots inside our bodies

Philosophically speaking, we mustn’t forget that we’re talking about putting robots inside our bodies, and this is something that many people might find difficult to accept. Although we are decades away from the widespread introduction of these therapies it is essential that we discuss these issues as a society and promote these scenarios which will become a reality in the future.

Like all new technologies, people transition from being afraid of the technology then – as they see the early adopters benefit – to starting to use the technologies, to accepting them, and even coming to see them as a necessary part of day to day life. A great example of this is telephones – it took 50 years for these to be massively adopted, compared to 12 years for the internet, and 4 years for social media. Whilst people may be skeptical to begin with, I predict that nanorobotics in healthcare will eventually become the norm.

People may be skeptical to begin with [but] nanorobotics in healthcare will eventually become the norm.

The end goal with this technology is to be able to prevent disease in the first place. It could be the case for example that nanorobots are administered by your GP on a frequent basis to give your body a thorough check for anything that can be dealt with in its early stages. This way we hope to avoid having to treat disease in the advanced stages and perhaps prevent diseases altogether.

In the video below from Big Think, Dr. Michio Kaku addresses the question of whether nanotechnology might play a part in helping to bring about ‘utopia‘. He says maybe in 100 years, we’ll have something called the “replicator”, which will create enormous abundance.

Related: The All Flying, All Cooperating Robots