Nature-Inspired Nano-Robots

Ingmar Nieuweboer
April 2nd 2016

When we cut ourselves the platelets in our blood rush by the thousands to the location of the cut and start aggregating causing the wound to close. This process is very efficient and operates automatically. Inspired by this extraordinary, yet ordinary, feed of our bodies researchers built autonomous nanobots able to locate and repair cuts in circuits, just like our platelets do in our veins.

The study was conducted by Joseph Wang from the University of California in San Diego and Anna Balazs from the University of Pittsburgh.The nanobots are of course not miniature versions of existing robots with arms and legs. They are simply too tiny to even have limbs. The “nano motors”, as the researchers call them, are actually called Janus particles. These particles are made of two materials, in this case: platinum and gold. These two materials have distinct physical properties and allow for two different types of chemistry to happen on the same particle.

When these Janus particles come in contact with hydrogen peroxide a chemical reaction occurs, but only for the platinum part. This causes oxygen to be released and thrust the particles forward like a jet.

Janus particles in operation

A simple circuit made with a power source, a LED light and a tiny cut separating them, was used to test the nanobots. The Janus particles together with a hydrogen peroxide solution were poured onto the circuit and were given 30 minutes to settle. After the solution was removed and the power source hooked up, the LED turned on. Another test showed the cut wasn’t repaired by using the Jason particles without the hydrogen peroxide.

In the future computers might have physical immune systems just like us. Software-wise they already have, firewalls and computer viruses have been battling and evolving each other for decades. These nanobots are still rather innocent, but is this just the beginning of computers with physical immune systems?

Source: Quartz. Image: Shutterstock, ACS Publications

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