Nano-inspirations often hit first thing in the morning. A concept for nanobot application occurred to me when I awoke this morning that could revolutionize neurology. If nanobots can be built to receive radio signals, then they can also be engineered to detect weak electrical fields such as those that traverse our nervous systems. The proximity of nanobots in the bloodstream to the nerve cells would permit sensitivity to such weak fields, and if the nanobots could transmit weak, narrow-band radio signals to provide measurements of nerve activity, it is possible that much new information could be learned about the nervous system. Of course, the subject would need to be in an electrically quiet environment such as a Faraday cage (no cellphones allowed), and all equipment inside the cage would need to be carefully shielded and bypassed to further eliminate unwanted electrical fields, but the concept seems feasible. Since nano-scale radio receivers have already been demonstrated (link), it doesn’t seem far fetched to have them transmit as well, and, with enough sophistication and computing power, achieve the capability for Wi-Fi-like networking (link). So how could this capability be applied?
A simple nanobot application involves nerve signal intensity measurement. A simple neurological application of nanobots would involve the nanobots emitting narrow band radio signals proportional to the electrical field they detect. The subject under evaluation would wear a suit containing elements that would emit light depending on the strength of the nanobot signals received, and high speed video cameras could record the intensity and duration of nerve signals by the intensity of light emitted by the suit. Any disconnects or aberrations in the nervous system would be immediately visible. A variety of improvements in sophistication could be achieved by applying concepts such as measuring the waveforms expressed in the light intensities of different emitters over time.
Self-identifying nanobots could be possible, with increasingly sophisticated applications. With increased sophistication (which could required larger nanobots, or “microbots”, to encompass the increased complexity) each nanobot could send a string of bits to identify itself followed by another string of bits (number) to indicate the intensity of the electrical field it was detecting. Larger and more sophisticated microbots (still microscopic but orders of magnitude larger than nanobots) could have the computing power to collect the digital signals from the nanobots near them, provide additional digital processing power, and help trace back the measurements to their physical origins. Such microbots could also be capable of identifying each other and networking. To avoid the potential mish-mash of thousands of simultaneous tiny narrowband signals and increase the ability to detect and record individual signals, data collection could be accomplished by having the subject wear a suit woven with a matrix of sensors that would acquire the microbots’ signals, and possibly communicate with them in Wi-Fi fashion to collect the data in an organized and traceable way or modify the processing they would perform.
Active stimulation of the nervous system could enable further research and treatments. To enable further study, microbots might eventually be used to actively stimulate nerve cells such that the interactions and pathways in the nervous system could be studied in more detail. Just as microprocessors are currently in use to help unscramble the nervous signals of patients suffering from a variety of neurological disorders, even more sophisticated forms of human-machine interface could be made possible through the use of radio and Wi-Fi-capable nanobots. I am sure I am only scratching the surface of the possibilities.
As always, I welcome your comments. – Tim