Thanks to IBM and MIT, someday you might have robotic supercomputers swimming through your veins to ensure all is well with your health.

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Meanwhile, as supercomputers swim through your bloodstream, you might be listening to music on your mobile device that can store 35 millions songs, the equivalent of the entire iTunes library, on a tiny chip in your device’s offline memory.

IBM and MIT’s most recent work in nanotechnology have made these scenarios within the realm of possibility, thanks to two recent breakthroughs: 1) the ability to store data on a magnet the size of a single atom; and 2) nano-sized origami robots that you can swallow.

IBM’s 35-Year Quest to Make an Atom-Sized Magnet

On March 8, IBM announced that they had completed an epic 35-year quest: to create a magnet the size of an atom and store data on it. They used their Novel-prize winning Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM) to create the atom-sized magnet.

From IBM’s press release:

By starting at the smallest unit of common matter, the atom, scientists demonstrated the reading and writing of a bit of information to the atom by using electrical current.  They showed that two magnetic atoms could be written and read independently even when they were separated by just one nanometer – a distance that is only a millionth the width of a pin head. This tight spacing could eventually yield magnetic storage that is 1,000 times denser than today’s hard disk drives and solid state memory chips.

Scanning Tunneling Microscope photographed at IBM Research Almaden campus in San Jose, California, on February 28, 2017. (Stan Olszewski for IBM) Creative Commons License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/legalcode
Scanning Tunneling Microscope photographed at IBM Research Almaden campus in San Jose, California, on February 28, 2017. (Stan Olszewski for IBM)

In a nutshell: scientists will someday be able to build on this atomic breakthrough by creating nano-structures and microscopic super computers that can be placed in any object or space, no matter how small.

In fact, as MIT is demonstrating in their latest breakthrough, nano-supercomputers might be swimming in our arteries and veins, thanks to the surprising pairing of an ancient technology, origami, and a new one, IBM’s atom-sized magnet.

MIT’s Origami Robot You Can Swallow

In the very near future, when someone mistakenly swallows a dangerous object–say, a toddler swallows a small button battery–the paramedic might have the patient swallow a little pill, a robot folded, origami-style, into a tiny size that expands when swallowed and gets to work getting the battery out of the body.

mitMIT’s amazing new little robot helper, as seen in their fascinating YouTube video below, can be steered using magnetic waves emitted from outside the body.

The robot can also crawl along the lining of the stomach and repair any wounds caused by the battery.

The Day When Supercomputers Live Inside Our Bodies

The implications are clear: someday, when nano-computers made from IBM’s atom-sized magnets are fused with creative solutions like MIT’s origami, swallowable robots, you might have swarms of powerful computers crawling and swimming inside your body, repairing it, monitoring it, and removing anything harmful.

Instead of asking, “Have you been taking your vitamins?” a future doctor might be asking, “Have you been taking your robots?”

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Kevin Ott
Kevin Ott has covered science and technology topics for numerous publications and organizations, including the Yale Music Library, which highlighted his article on the science behind the most popular chord in music. He has also done extensive coverage for National Geographic's popular "Breakthrough" series. In his spare time, when he's not writing tech articles and daydreaming about time machines, Kevin also writes books on a wide variety of topics, including literature, music, the meaning of joy, and the process of grieving. His new non-fiction book, "Shadowlands and Songs of Light: An Epic Journey into Joy and Healing," is available in bookstores and online stores everywhere.

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