Swarm robotics is an emerging field concerned with the utilization of autonomous robots that are multiple in fulfilling a specific task. For the first time, a team of researchers from Hokkaido University, Japan, showed that The group of molecular robots could be used for delivering cargo, demonstrating that molecular-sized robots can work in tandem to complete the task.
The strength of numbers
This demonstration marks a milestone day in research because the molecular robots created by the research team in Japan are said to be the first functioning micro-sized robots that can swarm together. The researchers developed five million robots. They could move polystyrene beads that had diameters of up to 30 micrometers.
One robot can only transport beads that range from 3 micrometers to 3 micrometers, but when robots work together, they can accomplish far more. That is why scientists are eager to create these swarms of molecular robots.
A molecular robot is an apparatus that converts energy generated by the external environment (such as electricity, light, or chemical) into motion. Molecular robotics was created by researchers at Hokkaido University in biological molecular machines.
Professor Akira Kakugo, who led the demonstration, and the researcher Dr. Mousumi Akter, told ZME Science that a molecular robot is an integrated system “formed by the combination of various molecular components, or devices that function as processors, actuators, or sensors.” In this scenario, the actuator driving robotics, the kinesin (a protein) DNA acts as the compressor, and an organic light-sensitive chemical (Azobenzene) serves as sensors.
When visible light is present, Azobenzene stimulates DNA into double-strands and creates swarms with microtubules (exposure to UV light could cause the Swarm to disintegrate). Additionally, Kinesin motors transport the microtubules.
In explaining the formation of swarms and the swarm formation process, Professor Kakugo highlighted the role DNA plays in the Swarm:
“DNA is one of the primary functions as the swarming of molecular robots was achieved through the molecular recognition capability of DNAs to regulate how they interact locally.”
Researchers compared the distance of transport and the volume of one robot and the Swarm in isolation. They discovered that the efficiency of swarms was five times more efficient than the molecular unit that is only one.
Researchers are looking to provide brains to molecular robots.
However, this is just the beginning of the team of researchers. After demonstrating the transportation capabilities of their micro-machines, the researchers from Hokkaido University now look forward to developing more powerful sensors and introducing artificial intelligence into the molecular swarm system so that the micro-robots can be able to see clearly and be able to perform a variety of tasks. Professor Kakugo explained the next step to take is to enhance the robots’ intelligence:
“We believe that it is possible to add brain-like machines or artificial intelligence into these robots by adding several molecular units (molecular reservoir system molecular computational technology) or sensors. That is the next step we are taking,” the researcher elaborates.
Kakugo and his colleagues believe that molecular robots hold great potential. They may be employed as a viable way to transport goods, distribute drugs, remove micro-contaminants in the environment, and assemble nano-parts. Furthermore, robotic swarms can also benefit molecular power generators and micro-devices to detect pathogens.
Molecular robots swarms can potentially change industries such as medical or robotics. Professor Akter and Dr. Akter gave the demonstration, and Professor Kakugo and their group were a great beginning towards this goal. However, the creation and deployment of extremely efficient molecular robots are more complicated than large-sized robots. Therefore, it would be interesting to find out which kind of robots were first introduced to the market shortly -the swarms or “droid” models.