Microbot dance recital at Duke University.

03 June 2008

The field of nanotechnology just took a hop, a skip, and a jump past a xenon atom stick figure and mechanical gears microns in diameter. No, researchers at Duke University didn't take up country line dancing, they created microscopic robots microns in size and caused them to dance across a one square millimeter floor. The microbots are shaped more like spatulae with guide rods attached to them than people, but they capable of interacting with each other as well as shimmying across the miniscule dance surface, propelled by oscillations in an electrical field... which happened to have the same rhythm as one of Johann Strauss' waltzes. Not only were they not controlled by a tether of any kind, but they were acting independently of one another, and shuffled around at the rate of 20,000 steps per second. They also have the distinction of being the smallest microbots yet constructed in human history, as they are 100 times smaller than everything else that's worked so far. Researchers are now figuring out ways of building microbots that can connect with each other and act en masse.

If the projections in the article are correct, functional nanotechnology seems to be advancing in three year cycles right now. It took five years to figure out how to make a tetherless microbot, but only three years to make them steerable, and another three years to move more than one at a time. One has to wonder what will happen in the year 2011 in this field...