Long-time players of ’80s role-playing game Cyberpunk 2020 and the more recent Eclipse Phase are acutely aware of the potential uses and risks that come from swarms of intelligently-connected nano-scale machines. In science-fiction worlds commonly depicted in these games, as well as an entire genre of movies, books, and video games, nanoswarms are old hat.

But, what if nanotechnology could deliver these incredible small, wirelessly-connected machines? How would they communicate? What practical purpose would they serve in a real-world scenario?

As it turns out, there are scientists and researchers working developing this very type of technology. Devices that measure little more than 100-times the size of a single strand of human DNA that can navigate through, and transmit data from, your bloodstream.

This makes it an incredible useful technology for medical research and care. Patients would benefit from having real-time analysis of their body down to the smallest level. Tests that today require exposure to radiation and other potentially harmful elements could one day be performed by nano devices positioned throughout the body.

Nanoswarms could have many uses

Other uses for the technology would include environmental data gathering, inventory management, and industrial monitoring.

There’s even a dedicated, and well funded, government initiative for developing nanotechnology called the National Nanotechnology Initiative. This initiative, which has received over $22 billion in government funding since 2001, is tasked with providing the resources for the development and advancement of nanotechnologies as they make their way from concept to market.

In order for these devices to work efficiently, they will need to be able to transmit data between them in a type of nano-scale Internet of Things.

There are several different possibilities being explored by researchers, including a dedicated team at Georgia Tech

Because they’re so small, their ability to send and receive data will be very limited. They wouldn’t be able to, for example, connect to your wi-fi network directly. However, they could pass information between each other to a type of nano-router that is slightly larger than its individual nodes and more equipped to process and transfer information to a gateway.

Whatever the case will be, it’s going to be interesting to see the Internet of Things evolve over the next decade. As it continues to grow, its devices may well shrink.