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Robots en su sangre? No son lo que piensas...

Robots in your blood? They're not what you think…

Imagine a future where tiny robots can heal people from the inside. If this sounds like science fiction to you, then you are in good company with Professors Noel Sharkey and Tony Ryan from the University of Sheffield. While they agree that nanorobots are a possibility, they argue that they are probably not the kind of robots you're thinking of and they could be much more sinister. The professors argue that nanoscale robots will have to be 'wet' entities made of polymers to be able to propel themselves through the viscous nanoscale world. Using bacteria as a model, these entities would be controlled by a chemical intelligence.

Professor Sharkey (engineer, psychologist and roboticist based in the University of Sheffield's Department of Computer Science) and Professor Ryan (nanotechnologist from the University's Chemistry Department) are coming together for a special public lecture this month to try and counteract some of the public's concerns about miniscule, nanorobots of the future.

Professors Sharkey and Ryan agree that most of the designs and drawings for nanorobots they have seen in the media don't have even a remote possibility of working. Professor Ryan explains: "People have been led to believe a lot of nonsense about nanorobotics. There's just no possibility that we would ever be able to create a tiny machine, like the ship in the 80s film Inner Space, which could drive around people's bodies carrying out repairs. Things just don't work like that on the nanoscale - you couldn't just build a miniature version of a bigger robot and expect it to be able to move."

Professor Sharkey adds: "Not only would nanorobots need to be built in an unconventional way, but obviously, scientists will have to work to find ways of controlling these new types of microscopic, artificial intelligences if the robots of the future to be useful. We just wouldn't be able to make working electronic computers small enough.

"If we're ever going to succeed in getting work out of robots this small, they will need a 'chemical intelligence' like bacteria. Such chemical computers would not be able to use normal robot sensors like cameras or sonar as they would be much too small relative to the wavelength of light or sound. They would need to use protein sensing like bacteria and viruses - tiny molecular processors that produce chemicals in the right quantities to drive the units towards desirable sites and away from obnoxious ones."

Professors Ryan and Sharkey will be discussing all these issues and more in a special one-off public lecture at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield on Monday 20 March 2006 as part of National Science Week.

Notes for Editors: Tickets for the Public lecture can be bought in advance from The Crucible ticket office on 0114 249 6000.

For further information or to arrange media interviews with Professors Noel Sharkey and Tony Ryan please call Danielle Reeves in the University of Sheffield's press office on 0114 222 5339 or email d.reeves@sheffield.ac.uk

Courtesy: The University of Sheffield

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