Masami Hagiya, Professor, Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, The University of Tokyo

Leader of Molecular Robotics, A Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Innovative Areas

The molecular robotics project, started in 2012, is now entering the last stage of its five-year research period until March 2017. We are currently making our best efforts on systematic integration of molecular devices to realize molecular robots by the bottom-up approach. They range from adjusting reaction conditions of various molecular devices to proposing new paradigms for constructing molecular systems.

As planned at the beginning of the project, we are developing two prototypes of molecular robots, the amoeba robot and the slime robot. The amoeba robot places and integrates molecular devices inside or on surface of a liposome, and the current main challenge in its development is how to accelerate communication among molecular devices by adjusting their reaction conditions. The slime robot consists of gellular beads or capsules that self-assemble and communicate with one another, realizing cellular automata and their extended models. The current challenge in developing the slime robot is how to realize states of a gellular bead and how to make beads communicate by molecules diffusing across beads.

When we started the project, we envisioned the future evolution of molecular robots in four generations, where the amoeba and slime robots correspond to the first and second generations, respectively, and thought that the third (multicellular robot) and fourth (hybrid robot) generations would be the targets of future research projects. However, the slime robot has already a multi-cellular aspect, and we are also planning to combine the prototype robots with other kinds of media including electricity and light. These research directions are natural consequences of developing the prototypes, and imply that our vision was appropriate.

In molecular robotics, the aspect of bottom-up construction cannot be exaggerated and we have actually developed a number of bottom-up methods for constructing the prototype robots. However, we also think that such bottom-up methods will be more practical when they are combined with traditional top-down methods such as those for MEMS.

We strongly believe that molecular robotics is now becoming a firm research field and is ready to be combined with other technologies and applied to various fields of science and engineering in near future