Eventually, scientists would like to shrink robots down far enough so that they can travel through the blood to directly target tumors. While the work’s still in early stages, researchers at the École Polytechnique de Montréal have been able to attach naturally magnetic, swimming bacteria onto microscopic beads, creating rudimentary “nanobots” and steering them using MRIs. The researchers hope that these hybrid bacteria bots can eventually be carted through the blood on a larger, magnetically controlled vehicle. (See “Voyage of the Bacteria Bots.”)
Robots have always been of particular interest for military applications, in the hopes that sophisticated robots can perform reconnaissance, help soldiers in the field, and carry out riskier tasks. Recently, scientists at Stanford University have developed a system to teach unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) how to learn new maneuvers by watching another helicopter do it. (See “Teaching Robots New Tricks.”) The learning system could extend to other robots. Other research seeks to use robotic aircraft to improve weather forecasting. (See “Robotic Weather Planes.”) Finally, scientists also seek to emulate nature when it comes to fliers. Researchers have looked to model dragonflies in particular, because they can stop and hover in midair, an ability that might be useful for a camera or reconnaissance drone. (See “The Flight of Dragonfly Robots.”)
Certainly, as electronic components continue to grow cheaper and smaller, and researchers are able to give robots more flexibility to manage in the real world, bots will continue to move out of the factory and into the home, hospital, and field to fill the gaps where needed.