Rise of the Machines Part 5: The Final Frontier

molecular-machinesIn discussing the advance of robotics we tend to concentrate on machines that carry out a seemingly for ever increasing variety of manual tasks: think of flipping burgers, mowing the lawn, vacuum cleaning, dispensing food, medicines or manufacturing cars, boats, things etc. It is just the beginning. Industrial robots were the first to arrive and continue to have a big impact on the manufacturing industry. Clearly the idea of robotics here is to do away with as many manual human tasks as possible in order to cut labour cost, improve quality, avoid human accidents, increase output, grow profits. The idea of consumer robots that free humans from dirty, dull or tiring tasks is not new but most solutions have just been arriving this decade. At the same time we see robots entering services sectors such as healthcare, public sector, transport and trade. These robots act as a automated means of dispensing goods or information.

So far robotics have been based on things we see, do and experience. We are looking at robotics from a human perspective and with human sized proportions in mind. With the Nobel Prize for chemistry awarded jointly to Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa, we are entering the final frontier of robotics. Robotics on nano scale, or as the Nobel prize organization in their press release states molecular machines. Nanotechnology is the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale, one nanometer (nm) being one billionth, or 10-9, of a meter.

This 4th type of robots – applications are still some 25 years down the road – is from a different order of magnitude than the other three. And so are its purposes. We can only fantasize about its use case. Scientists anticipate a chemical engineering revolution resulting in energy solutions, water waste management maybe even solutions for global warming. Computer scientists may ponder that Moore’s law just got another lease on life. Physicians like to think of nano bots that do maintenance and repair services inside the body which could extend our life on earth in good shape for some extra decades or forever. But with less to do while at the same time enjoying a much healthier body, what than should we do? The leisure industry is set for a very strong long term growth.