Nanorobotics is the technology of creating machines or robots at or close to the microscopic scale of a nanometres (10-9 metres). More specifically, nanorobotics refers to the still largely hypothetical nanotechnology engineering discipline of designing and building nanorobots. Nanorobots (nanobots, nanoids or nanites) would be typically devices ranging in size from 0.1-10 micrometers and constructed of nanoscale or molecular components. As no artificial non-biological nanorobots have so far been created, they remain a hypothetical concept at this time.
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Another definition sometimes used is a robot which allows precision interactions with nanoscale objects, or can manipulate with nanoscale resolution. Following this definition even a large apparatus such as an atomic force microscope can be considered a nanorobotic instrument when configured to perform nanomanipulation. Also, macroscale robots or microrobots which can move with nanoscale precision can also be considered nanorobots.
Nanomachines are largely in the research-and-development phase, but some primitive molecular machines have been tested. An example is a sensor having a switch approximately 1.5 nanometers across, capable of counting specific molecules in a chemical sample. The first useful applications of nanomachines, if such are ever built, might be in medical technology, where they might be used to identify cancer cells and destroy them. Another potential application is the detection of toxic chemicals, and the measurement of their concentrations, in the environment. Recently, Rice University has demonstrated a single-molecule car which is developed by a chemical process and includes buckyballs for wheels. It is actuated by controlling the environmental temperature and by positioning a scanning tunneling microscope tip. Basic nanomachines are also in use in other areas. Nanotechnology coatings are already being used to make clothing with stain-resistant fibers and are used on swim suits to repel water, reduce friction with the water, and allow swimmers to go faster. Nanotech powders are being used to create high-performance sun-screen lotions and nanoparticles are helping to deliver drugs to targeted tissues in the body.