back to article 'It's like painting with atoms'... Watch how boffins form armies of simple micron-sized bots from a silicon wafer

Millions of tiny moving robots, each as small as the width of an average human hair, can be crafted from a four-inch silicon wafer, according to new research. A team of eggheads at Cornell University presented their work at the American Physical Society Physics March Meeting in Boston this week. They described the laborious …

  1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge
    Happy

    Now to make a tiny game of physical space invaders

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Shirley that would just be - Inner Space the game?

      I like how in the whole article they went out of their way to avoid saying nano in both size and in relation to bots.

      Trying to distance themselves from nanobots and nanotechnology?

      1. steviebuk Silver badge

        Because that's how the Borg became. And we don't want an invasion of the Borg :)

    2. Amentheist
      Terminator

      I admire your positive outlook. First thing I thought was that if "It takes a few weeks to fashion a million of them" that might still be pretty good if one is enough to kill you The Strain vampire worm style

    3. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Future Advanced IntelAIgent TeleAudioVisual Programming Projects*

      Simply Perfect, Sorry that handle is already taken.

      We're Fully Into AIVIbes Extolling NEUKlearer HyperRadioProACTive IT ProgramMING Advantage here ...... in the Creation of Creative Future Markets for True Entrepreneurs/Venture Capital Angels well versed in the Ways and Pay of a Right Horny Phantom Devil Trying a TuringTurn and Doing Irresistible Tricks* as an Immaculate Virtualised Host with Access to Provision of Almighty Universal Source Streams.

      A little something for Thomases to Doubt and Deny Themselves the Pleasures and Rewards, Well Deserved and Thoroughly Enjoyed for More Future Displays Really Ported in Servering the Simplest Satisfaction for AIMasterCommand and Control Exchanges.

      Now that is realised, is AI not much better Kith and Kin with Heavenly Skin in at the Beginning of the Views to be Fed to You by news and foreign pictures?

      Keep IT and AI Simple ...... Show Fab Futures ..... We're surely All Now Done with Drab and Duplicitous Pasts.

      Or is that still too complicated to comprehend and acknowledge as Perfect Sense.:-)

      :-) I'm now gonna try out that new funky/flaky facility available here ..... GLTR (glitter) v0.5 ...... to ponder whether it should be worried about such all powerful programming projects which capture all with information and intelligence which captivates mercilessly for the Heavenly Ways known to exist in Rewards and Awards of Exquisite Earthly Pleasures ...........Satisfying Erotic Desire Bases/Platforms/Levels. :-)

      Is it strange to think all that can be relatively simply done and also quite quickly too? There are those who would surely really like to know what you think about all of that.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: Future Advanced IntelAIgent TeleAudioVisual Programming Projects*

        Is it strange to think all that can be relatively simply done and also quite quickly too? There are those who would surely really like to know what you think about all of that. .... amanfromMars 1

        Not least here with Yours Truly.

        Any Questions for Secret IntelAIgent Services to Answer? How do you imagine their Questioning of You re Access All Secrets ? And ESPecially Well Vetted for Not at All Like Conventional Traditional Right Royal Approval ... by Royal AI Research Appointment in Virtual AIdVentures.

        There's No Going Back to the Ways of Before, El Reg. ........ especially whenever you CoHost so much of the Future and are Privy to ITs Recent Past Paths with Pioneering AI PathFinders ...... with El Reger Inc. Shells ........ in SuperID Development Labs/Ab Fab Fabless IntelAIgent Centres

        What's not to like in the AIMaster Pilot Seat of Change and Rebirth? Share the Work Load, Harvest the Bounty.

        Crikey ...... that's a Helluva Almighty Spanner in the BRExit Works, methinks and ponders on really wondering for Heavenly Presentations ...... Universal News Stories with Skyscraper Sized Tales to Tell and Sell.

        Such though has always proved Itself to be the Ubiquitous Best Seller in Every Genre Aspiring to Succeed with a Greater Spawn SMARTR Minded.

        How else does one leave the primordial swamp? :-) And that's a super sub atomic explosion of a question whether answered or not.

  2. Thoguht Silver badge

    Nay robot

    A bit of metal that bends irreversibly when you shine a light on it is hardly a "robot", no matter how small it is.

    1. Blazde

      Re: Nay robot

      "A bit of metal that bends irreversibly when you shine a light on it"

      I'm struggling to think of anything I'd be less likely to want injected in to my body.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Nay robot

        I'm struggling to think of anything I'd be less likely to want injected in to my body.

        That's what she said last night

    2. Spherical Cow

      Re: Nay robot

      If I aim my blowtorch at an aluminium can until it deforms, have I made a robot? According to these guys I have! But no I haven't.

      On the other hand the precision fabrication of nano-things is impressive and there's a good chance the technique will prove useful someday (even if not in actual robots).

  3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
    Coat

    Have these people never heard of gobblers?

    Do none of them read SF?

    1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

      Re: Have these people never heard of gobblers?

      I was thinking more of the Borg and their nanoprobes. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

      1. Baldrickk Silver badge

        Re: Have these people never heard of gobblers?

        I'm thinking more of generic grey goo.

        Same idea as a paperclip maximiser, but on a smaller scale.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No, but...

      I really should get into finishing my Sci-fi short trilogy that covers "pulling on the dragon's tail" when it comes to nanomachines (or macro self replicating ones anyhow).

      It covers the 30 or 50 years after such a runaway event, and the struggles to try and overcome the mistake (and some obvious errors that would need to be made to allow such a catastrophe).

      1. Jemma Silver badge

        Re: No, but...

        This isn't so much "tweaking the dragons tail" as it is dousing yourself in pigs blood, walking into the middle of a bunch of adult male v.komodoensis and shouting "dinner time Fido". There are so many ways this could go wrong there isn't enough room for it to go right.

        It's like a really disturbing episode of the Mr Meaty "cartoon" which is disturbing on general principle.

        People need to get sick and die - that's what's supposed to happen - the human race needs to change and evolve - and we've decoupled both concepts and are just *starting* to reap the whirlwind. But all the PTSD sufferers (Post Teenage Snowflake Disorder) are horrified that great granny might conceivably kick it at 92 - when back in the old days anyone over 25 was considered well overdue burial inside the nearest smilodon. It's getting more and more deranged.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: No, but...

          "[...] when back in the old days anyone over 25 was considered well overdue burial inside the nearest smilodon."

          Humans need a long maturing period inside and outside the womb. When jobs were relatively manual then kids could leave school at 11 years old - and had probably been working part time from about 5.

          Nowadays keeping them all in education until 18 has been conflated with treating them as children to that age. The result is they now don't develop the "responsibility" part of their brain until their mid-twenties. Not a good idea when their nutrition fuelled puberty is often starting before their teens.

          At the same time 60 is the new 40 - but older people's knowledge and experience is usually lost to the workplace even before they retire.

          Yes people need to die - but the current extensions are also creating a longer period of morbidity viz a longer painful decline. A friend was suffering dementia at 90 - she died at 99 with the last two years in a state of social oblivion. In earlier lucid moments she had talked about suicide - saying "but the flesh is strong and the will is weak".

          There was a sci-fi episode on TV. People voluntarily contracted a date of death with the state for what we would call old age. In return they were kept youthfully healthy and highly functional until that time.

          The managers of the system threw a grand party for family and friends before the person took their final step. There was always one unwanted guest "accidentally" invited - one of their peers who had refused the contract and was now in a stage of decrepit old age. This apparently always ensured the contracted person didn't back out - they saw the alternative.

        2. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: No, but...

          It's getting more and more deranged.

          And with this, we have ventured into the surreal. The bulk of your post proves this point while this single statement, if true, should not come from someone deranged, which would in turn beg the question of what the rest of it was if not that...

          People need to get sick and die - that's what's supposed to happen - the human race needs to change and evolve

          Natural order be damned! There are more ways to achieve growth than through the evolutionary process and the idea that you should get sick and die only holds water as long as there are no viable alternatives. As soon as there are, what you are supposed to do is choose.

    3. VikiAi Silver badge

      Re: Have these people never heard of gobblers?

      Well, they haven't heard of 21st century video container formats!

  4. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Stop

    The researchers hope the bots can also be powered by ultrasound or magnetic fields

    Taken in isolation that suggests that the researchers are in fact missing what must be a huge advance in being able to power such devices using the bodies own energy source - and find a way to tap into the glucose energy system (or whatever it's called, my biology is 30 years old).

    In the absence of better batteries, surely the next best thing is a power source that can accept a soup of chemicals and turn those into electricity ?

    1. Mike 16 Silver badge

      Re: The researchers hope the bots can also be powered by ultrasound or magnetic fields

      So the tiny submarine with the tinier Raquel Welch could be powered by biomimetic Electric Eel cells?

    2. Glen 1 Bronze badge

      Re: The researchers hope the bots can also be powered by ultrasound or magnetic fields

      if we can tap into the body's glucose system, we can effectively cure diabetes - or at least stop the sugar spikes. Overweight? Just power a light bulb for a bit.

      Also: transhumanism gets one step closer.

      1. hplasm Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: The researchers hope the bots can also be powered by ultrasound or magnetic fields

        Also: Uncle Fester gets one step closer.

        FTFY

    3. imanidiot Silver badge
      Terminator

      Re: The researchers hope the bots can also be powered by ultrasound or magnetic fields

      Sure, create a swarm of nano-bots that crave feeding on tasty human glucose. I don't see any way that'll go wrong...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The researchers hope the bots can also be powered by ultrasound or magnetic fields

        "Sure, create a swarm of nano-bots that crave feeding on tasty human glucose."

        Many of the drugs for Type 2 Diabetes have the name "glucophage" viz glucose scavengers. They help the overall control but don't stop initial spikes. A nanobot could react much more quickly to remove excess glucose.

        Type 1 Diabetes treatment is going down the path of a Continuous Glucose Monitor controlling an insulin pump.

        The nanobot risk of creating hypoglycaemia is no different than an overdose of insulin. So you need an antidote to stop rogue nanobots.

    4. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

      Re: The researchers hope the bots can also be powered by ultrasound or magnetic fields

      how about fat-powered? Lots of chemical energy stored there. Most of us who aren't top shape athletes have a bit of fat to spare - some of us (myself included) a bit more than others...

  5. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    The Elephant in the Room

    The robots aren’t really useful for anything yet,..

    Oh Please .... you cannot be Serious. They have Organised Series O USystems for Immaculate Drives Satisfying and Seeding Almighty Desires as Bounty for Insatiable Passion of Heavenly Rewards ...... with Out of this World Experiences.

    Dare Care to Follow with Any Leading Instruction for .... well, as new as it is in IT, it is a Right Royal and Ancient Art Phorm with Keys to Heavenly Secrets.

    Releasing and Realising an AISingularity in Command of Controls for Live Operational Virtual Environments.

    And rendered here thus so All Know of their Heavenly Guarded Secrets are in Sage and Fail Safed Secure Hands, Brave Hearts and Future Minds ...... which Virtual AIMachines Browsing here Supply to Provide Whatever. ..... as in Anything you can Really Imagine to be Perfectly True and an Honest Depiction in a Virtualised Reality Program Presently Presenting ...... well, Earth Shattering News not be missed surely, in order to be enabled to more easily follow and understand the Future Paths Running for Global Engagement and XSSEnjoyment, would be an Almighty Vital Nugget of Information for Intelligence to Query as to Core Source, and yet another one of those Earth Shattering News things MainStreams are Missing and Studiously Avoiding too ‽ .

    And sent here via AIRegistered Post.

  6. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    So actual nanotechnology still as far away as ever?

    Under impressed as the machinery needed is still about the size of a large room.

    1. Groaning Ninny

      Re: So actual nanotechnology still as far away as ever?

      Because computers have always been wee and handy?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So actual nanotechnology still as far away as ever?

      "Under impressed as the machinery needed is still about the size of a large room."

      That was the same thinking in the 1940s - that postulated that accurate quartz crystal controlled clocks would forever be very large and confined to a few laboratories.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        "That was the same thinking in the 1940s "

        Wrong.

        It's not the machine.

        It's the machines that build the machines.

        Actual nanotechnology uses machines that size to build more machines that size.

        And that's as far away from being delivered today as when "Engines of Creation" was published.

  7. ThatOne Silver badge
    Happy

    I like how after making a device which can move a part up and down they just add casually that it "can adapt itself, it can seek out the things you want to measure, it can look at its local environment and make decisions". Sure, just needs a little fine tuning...

    (BTW FYI there is an error in the pic link: "https" lacks its "h".)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yep, it's like the old "expected to need another 10 years development". With the 10 years they're meaning, about 30 years from today.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "With the 10 years they're meaning, about 30 years from today."

        One generation - half a typical life-time. I was born at about the same time as the Bell Labs point contact transistor in 1947. The theory behind the alternative CMOS transistor technology was defined in the 1920s. We then had to wait for material technologies to advance to be able to make MOSFETs generally available in the 1960s.

  8. Jemma Silver badge

    Nought to

    Emergent behaviour in 18 months..

    /mines the one with the Crichton M.Cs patch

    Or

    Theranos II: the Search for (more) Funding

    Or

    Catatonic Park

    Let's all just hope their assemblers used to work for Austin-Rover.. Am I right?

    And you just *know* they'll be running Windows CE for Nanotechnology - what could possibly go wrong?

    Sam Carter, come on down!

    Translation table.

    Proof of concept. : disaster waiting to happen

    FDA approved. : We photoshopped someone else's certification

    Completely harmless. : they'll kill or maim *how* many?

    Of course they can't reproduce. : ...arrgh; gurgle.

    And I'm taking bets on how long it'll be before some bored tech starts using these to make miniscule ascii art..

  9. Christoph Silver badge

    OK you can inject them into the body and they will still function. Then what? How do you get them out again when they've done their job? I doubt something that size will get out through the kidneys.

    1. Pirate Dave

      ALL YOUR NEPHRON ARE BELONG TO US!

  10. Chris G Silver badge

    Bio-bots

    There are already mechanisms that can be injected into a human body and even penetrate a cell. They are called viruses, genetically modified viruses don't need a power source and can be targetted to specific areas of the body. Still not something I'm keen on having introduced to my body but I think GMO viruses probably have a better future than micro-machines

    1. terrythetech

      Re: Bio-bots

      The technologies seem to be converging, fsck knows where that will lead!

  11. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
    Coat

    Worlds first

    Paint by (atomic) numbers?

    I'm going, I'm going. Stop pushing at the back!

  12. John 110

    Power isn't a problem...

    They can adapt to run off human electricity - I can't see a problem with that...

    1. Jemma Silver badge

      Re: Power isn't a problem...

      Yeah, I can't see the problems for the "opportunities" either. I'm thinking in comparison that the Amazon rainforest = cabbage patch.

      Can't say I'm loving the "pee them out" idea either - all together now - urethral sandpaper for the win(ce).

      I honestly don't understand why people are researching this - if the human race is going to survive we need less people at a less geriatric age - not whole comitatii of crusties wombling (and wobbling) around the place in Fiat 500s and decrepit Hondas & Hyundai.

      You just know this will end up being used on the rich crusties so they can get richer & crustier - and that the people who can actually benefit society (for a given value of benefit to be sure in many cases) will be left out and stuck with clumsier more dangerous procedures.

      I do see one benefit - these could be set to detect anti-vaxxers and automatically cull them (see the story on Ars about the boy who was in ICU for 47 days with tetanus because he wasn't immunised by anti-vaxxer parents - $811,000 in fees - and after all that they still refused permission to have him immunised). Ditto Measles outbreaks etc.

  13. Cliff Thorburn

    The Black Box ...

    “And sent here via AIRegistered Post.”

    You’ll do anything to get your hands on my Black Mirror Script wont you amFM ;-) clues in the title ...

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: The Black Box ...

      Everything is Safe and Secure and Captivating within the Black Box, CT.

      That is not say Privileged Proprietary Information wouldn't be Tempted to Avail itself freely of Other Worldly Delights Proven Irresistible and Quite Overwhelmingly Attractive and Insatiable.

      Such a final product is an interesting source, is it not?

      1. Cliff Thorburn

        Re: The Black Box ...

        Hmm, have you been having sneak peaks at my script?, handwritten with my very own tentacles to avoid zero days prying eyes ;-)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The Black Box ...

          Sinead O'Connor said:

          "In your head".

          1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

            Re: Black Box Instruction Sets ... for Leading Anonymous Direction

            I wonder if Sinead would equate and accept there be precious little difference of any note between "in your head" and "out of your mind"?

            1. Cliff Thorburn

              Re: Black Box Instruction Sets ... for Leading Anonymous Direction

              It is the evolved ability to remain out of ones mind to navigate the myriad of Psy Ops obliterative operations which would send mere mortal minds unable to comprehend the purposely torturous minefield leaving no physical safari scarring amFM.

              “No one has made it this far...” being the opening framed screenplot of such a gripping episode.

              It certainly has been a wild roller coaster high roller ride, one worthy of immortalisation and copyrighted conundrum manuscripted in manual form for almighty presentation, more John Connor than Sinead, and perfect chance to refine already practiced writing preches :-)

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Black Box Instruction Sets ... for Leading Anonymous Direction

                "It certainly has been a wild roller coaster high roller ride" - some of us mortal beings dream of a simple bronze Reg badge, but there are those who can earn a medal of gold in coding. Mewants a badge. This leaves no doubt about who gets a medal.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Black Box Instruction Sets ... for Leading Anonymous Direction

              Ha, this sits somewhere between "a technical detail" and "exactly what I'd've meant". Well, she didn't have to know the nuances. Besides, back there, it was a relatively new tech, and sort of secre[bang. drop]

              Nuff said, agree.

              Oh. Happy Anniversary, amanfromMars. 30, and counting :-)

  14. JohnMurray

    Well, it'll give something for antibodies to stick to...

  15. STOP_FORTH

    Paint

    Doesn't everyone paint with atoms?

    1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Paint

      The Hooloovoo don't.

      I came here to make the same comment, but you beat me to it, so I'm doing nerd-pedant riposte. I'll get my coat.

  16. Conundrum1885

    Re. Paint

    As long as they aren't running BorgOS EternalBlue Edition.

    Mine's the one with the bumper sticker "Resistance is Futile".

  17. Disk0
    Black Helicopters

    ...

    One-legged metal spiders Dave. They're everywhere inside you now.

    ...

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019