Magazine article The Futurist

Micromachines

Magazine article The Futurist

Micromachines

Article excerpt

The development of tiny "micromachines" in Japan has brought the fantasy of Isaac Asimov's Fantastic Voyage one step closer to reality. During the past five or six years, research and development of these microscopic-sized devices has flourished in Japan, according to Naomasa Nakajima, an engineering expert at the University of Tokyo.

Current micromachine prototypes use motors that are thinner than a human hair and gears that are even smaller. One such prototype has a motor the size of a grain of rice and is part of a children's toy. Billed as the world's smallest robot, it measures only 1 cm x 1 cm and can move toward a light source.

While micromachines may only be curiosities now, Japan takes their future very seriously. According to Nakajima, a 10-year research and development program is already under way, involving almost two dozen Japanese corporations, as well as several companies and an unidentified university from outside the country.

Current plans for micromachines are primarily medical. According to Nakajima, one scenario would involve a needle injecting a catheter into an affected blood vessel. From the catheter, a microscopic robot would emerge. Guided by the surgeon, the robot would repair the affected region using tactile and visual feedback. …

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