“Robots in Your Blood,” Friend, June 1991, 44
Can you imagine a robot no bigger than a grain of sand? It sounds like something from a cartoon, but such a thing may soon be real. Just think of all the things a tiny robot could do. It could go places where nothing else could go. It might even go inside your body.
Scientists have built tiny motors smaller than a human hair. The teeth on the rotor, the part that turns, is no bigger than a red blood cell. Building and working with these tiny machines is called nanotechnology. (A nanometer is one billionth of a meter.) The tiny robots might be called “nanobots.”
Doctors may use these nanobots to make surgery safer and less stressful for the patient. Most of a surgery patient’s stay in a hospital is spent waiting for the incisions or stitches to heal. Using nanobots, major surgery could be performed in the doctor’s office rather than in a hospital.
Nanobots could also be programmed to go inside a person’s body to find out why he is sick. The tiny robots would be injected into the patient’s blood stream. They would use blood vessels as rivers to take them where they need to go. Messages from the traveling nanobots would keep the doctor informed. Once he found the problem, the doctor could send surgical nanobots to fix it.
Even a very simple nanobot that just cleaned the fat from the inside of blood vessels could save millions of lives. Fatty deposits can build up on the walls of the blood vessels, causing less blood to pass through and even clogging the vessels. The deposits can also cause strokes. A nanobot could travel through blood vessels and scrape the deposits off the walls, allowing the blood to flow normally once more.
Can we really build these nanobots? So far, scientists have built motors, gears, a sort of tweezers, and levers. They build them in much the same way that they build computer chips. The motors and gears are made from silicon, which is similar to sand, only purer.
All the gears, motors, and levers have been built in the past year or so. As scientists get better at building these things, nanobots will get even smaller—especially when they begin using their tiny gears and tweezers to build even smaller versions of themselves!
We’ll have nanobots of some kind in the next five to ten years. They may not be good enough to remove an appendix at first, but they should be able to clean out blood vessels. We’ll have to wait and see what happens after that.