The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has funded a research project by scientists who designed a programmable molecular robot that is a sub-microscopic molecular machine fabricated from artificial DNA that travels between spots on a track separated by 6nm.
The robot is actually a short strand of a DNA and will obey commands programmed into fuel molecules tracking its destination such as to turn right or left. The report is a window to future nanomachines and nanofactories, and has been published in the ACS's Nano Letters.
Andrew Turberfield and fellow researchers say that the earlier versions of robots that move around automatically deploy a biped design and move by attaching or detaching from the anchor points along the track, by placing one foot over another when fuel is added. However, it has been an ongoing endeavor to evolve a robot that is a cargo-carrying molecular machine.
The scientists say a robot needs to be programmed to choose one of the different branches of a track, instead of treading a straight path. The fuel hairpin is a molecule serving as both a chemical energy source to steer the robot along the track, and as a routing command. The commands instruct the robot, which way to move, while controlling the route. This method could help the movement of pharmaceutical or other materials to be transported from one destination to another with precision.