Research ArticleAPPLIED SCIENCES AND ENGINEERING

Autonomous robotic nanofabrication with reinforcement learning

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Science Advances  02 Sep 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 36, eabb6987
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abb6987

Abstract

The ability to handle single molecules as effectively as macroscopic building blocks would enable the construction of complex supramolecular structures inaccessible to self-assembly. The fundamental challenges obstructing this goal are the uncontrolled variability and poor observability of atomic-scale conformations. Here, we present a strategy to work around both obstacles and demonstrate autonomous robotic nanofabrication by manipulating single molecules. Our approach uses reinforcement learning (RL), which finds solution strategies even in the face of large uncertainty and sparse feedback. We demonstrate the potential of our RL approach by removing molecules autonomously with a scanning probe microscope from a supramolecular structure. Our RL agent reaches an excellent performance, enabling us to automate a task that previously had to be performed by a human. We anticipate that our work opens the way toward autonomous agents for the robotic construction of functional supramolecular structures with speed, precision, and perseverance beyond our current capabilities.

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