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Coordinating Microscopic Robots in Viscous Fluids

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Tad Hogg


Multiagent control provides strategies for aggregating microscopic robots (“nanorobots”) in fluid environments relevant for medical applications. Unlike larger robots, viscous forces and Brownian motion dominate the behavior. Examples range from modified microorganisms (programmable bacteria) to future robots using ongoing developments in molecular computation, sensors and motors. We evaluate controls for locating a cell-sized area emitting a chemical into a moving fluid with parameters corresponding to chemicals released in response to injury or infection in small blood vessels. These control methods are passive Brownian motion, following the chemical concentration gradient, and cooperative behaviors in which some robots use acoustic signals to guide others to the chemical source. Control performance is evaluated using diffusion equations to describe the robot motions and control state transitions. The quantitative results show these control techniques are feasible approaches to the task with trade-offs among fabrication difficulty, response speed, false positive detection rate and energy use. Controlled aggregation at chemically distinctive locations could be useful for sensitive diagnosis, selective changes to biological tissues and forming structures using previous proposals for multiagent control of modular robots.

Preprint in pdf format (published in Autonomous Agents and Multi-Agent Systems, 14:271-305 (2007))

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