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Nanorobotics is an emerging field that deals with the controlled manipulation of objects with nanometer-scale dimensions. Typically, an atom has a diameter of a few Ångstroms (1 Å = 0.1 nm = 10-10 m), a molecule's size is a few nm, and clusters or nanoparticles formed by hundreds or thousands of atoms have sizes of tens of nm. Therefore, Nanorobotics is concerned with interactions with atomic- and molecular-sized objects-and is sometimes called Molecular Robotics.


Molecular Robotics falls within the purview of Nanotechnology, which is the study of phenomena and structures with characteristic dimensions in the nanometer range. The birth of Nanotechnology is usually associated with a talk by Nobel-prize winner Richard Feynman entitled "There is plenty of room at the bottom", whose text may be found in [Crandall & Lewis 1992]. Nanotechnology has the potential for major scientific and practical breakthroughs. Future applications ranging from very fast computers to self-replicating robots are described in Drexler's seminal book [Drexler 1986]. In a less futuristic vein, the following potential applications were suggested by well-known experimental scientists at the Nano4 conference held in Palo Alto in November 1995:

" Cell probes with dimensions ~ 1/1000 of the cell's size
" Space applications, e.g. hardware to fly on satellites
" Computer memory
" Near field optics, with characteristic dimensions ~ 20 nm
" X-ray fabrication, systems that use X-ray photons
" Genome applications, reading and manipulating DNA
" Nanodevices capable of running on very small batteries
" Optical antennas

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