Nanorobots: Today and Tomorrow

Teams around the world are working on creating the first practical medical nanorobot. Robots ranging from a millimeter in diameter to a relatively hefty two centimeters long already exist, though they are all still in the testing phase of development and haven't been used on people. We're probably several years away from seeing nanorobots enter the medical market. Today's microrobots are just prototypes that lack the ability to perform medical tasks.

2-centimeter-long robot
Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images
Although this 2-centimeter-long robot
is an impressive achievement,
future robots will be hundreds
of times smaller.
In the future, nanorobots could revolutionize medicine. Doctors could treat everything from heart disease to cancer using tiny robots the size of bacteria, a scale much smaller than today's robots. Robots might work alone or in teams to eradicate disease and treat other conditions. Some believe that semiautonomous nanorobots are right around the corner -- doctors would implant robots able to patrol a human's body, reacting to any problems that pop up. Unlike acute treatment, these robots would stay in the patient's body forever.

Another potential future application of nanorobot technology is to re-engineer our bodies to become resistant to disease, increase our strength or even improve our intelligence. Dr. Richard Thompson, a former professor of ethics, has written about the ethical implications of nanotechnology. He says the most important tool is communication, and that it's pivotal for communities, medical organizations and the government to talk about nanotechnology now, while the industry is still in its infancy.

Will we one day have thousands of microscopic robots rushing around in our veins, making corrections and healing our cuts, bruises and illnesses? With nanotechnology, it seems like anything is possible.

To learn more about nanotechnology, follow the links on the next page.