Remember Innerspace? Dennis Quaid and his submarine-like ship are shrunk to the size of a cell and accidentally injected into the hapless Martin Short. Quaid navigates the hazards of Short’s bodily functions in order to plot his escape. Twenty years on, there’s something rather quaint about it. A vessel the size of a cell? With a pilot inside? Compared to today’s innovations in nanotechnology, it’s akin to using a tractor trailer to find your way through a corn maze.
Our best parallel now would be closer to using two dozen R/C cars, controlled by a tiny remote brain, to swarm through the maze. Although our most sophisticated nanomachines are still not yet ready to navigate your blood stream, Japanese researchers have recently come one step closer by
inventing a nanotech “brain.” The device, comprised of seventeen molecules of the chemical duroquinone, is arranged as a ring of sixteen, with one in the middle, all connected by chemical bonds. By manipulating the state of the middle molecule with a scanning tunneling microscope, the scientists were able to make the ring of sixteen simultaneously follow suit.
While the brain is very much in its early stages, the work is a an important step towards nanomachines playing a role in medicine. The one-to-many concept is critical to robotic control and has the potential for applications in future generations of computing.