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The frontier of microelectronics: Building nano-machines, part by part

DENVER, CO--Nanocomputers, higher resolution screens, and millibots? What kinds of gadgets will the next generation of innovation bring? The answer to questions like these depend on nanotechnology, a rapidly developing field that crosses a spectrum of sciences with studies at the nano-scale, smaller than a human cell.

Leading scientists in the field of nanotechnology will be discussing recent developments in microelectronics, at the 2003 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting.

What would you do with a nanocomputer? James Ellenbogen of MITRE is networking tiny computers to control tiny machines. Building a millirobot involves many levels of research, said James Ellenbogen of MITRE, who is testing a prototype for a silicon chip with motorized legs. If all goes right with the first generation of development, a 10x10 millimeter chip would have legs "wave like a cheering section at a football game." Ellenbogen is fine-tuning the leg and motor designs of the test chip, and the plan is to further refine these before moving on to make six-legged insect-like "walkers" that would only be a fraction of the size of the test chip: 3x5 millimeters, no larger than a small housefly.

The robots do not reproduce, and the idea behind Ellenbogen's research is not to make machines that assemble themselves, but to test the application of a nanocomputer. The millirobot's purpose is to be an "exercise of control," to understand the mechanics of how to wire up the chip, little motors, and little legs that wiggle and walk. Instead of figuring out how to make a Cadillac cruise, it's about how to make many little machines on a tiny system--legs--move in a well-coordinated way. "Once we decide on the right fit, I'd be pleased as punch if we have one next year that would scuttle across the table and avoid objects." Ellenbogen will also discuss ongoing developments of nanocomputers.

"We overestimate what we can achieve in
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13-Feb-2003


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