HANCOCK, N.H. Despite tantalizing lab results, building robots on a molecular scale would seem to be a futuristic pipe dream. But a research report on robotic technology published by Business Communications Co. Inc. (Norwalk, Conn.) claims that nanobots are "on the cusp," thanks to robust research worldwide on the problem.
This highly speculative technology is benefiting from the rapid growth of the robotics market in general. Everything from manufacturing drones to such automated home appliances as robotic vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers is increasingly in demand.
Home robots are expected to grow to a $658 million business by 2007, according to the report. Nanorobotics might find its first big application in medical technology and could transform many areas of life, the report claims.
A basic factor pushing the expansion of robotics is the rapid progress being made in sensor and control technology. Less-costly, more-reliable, more-accurate sensors aremaking robots more versatile. The emergence of autonomous machines is opening up large markets in hospital, home and battlefield applications.
Showcase products such as Honda's Asimo and Sony's SDR-4x, humanoid robots that use complex neural-network control systems and can perform speech recognition, have captured the imagination-albeit not the wallets-of Japanese consumers. And smaller, less ambitious, less costly toy robots have caught on in a big way in Japan.
Another emerging market is in micropositioning, or controlling movement down to extremely tight tolerances. Automated nanopositioning systems will find a market in electronics manufacturing as circuit features shrink, the report predicts.
Telerobotic systems, in which an operator is located remotely, are poised for rapid development as well, for use in hazardous environments and for applications such as remote surgery.