Popular Mechanics reports: “”It’s small enough to “turn on a dime and park on a nickel,” or so say the inventors of a 1cm-tall machine that lays claim to being the world’s smallest robot. Make that the smallest man-made robot, for the device developed by the Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., would be a Gulliver in the world of the Lilliputian “machines” operating inside living cells.
“Downsizing” is a concept that is sweeping the industry. Chip makers seek ever-smaller circuits to pack in more memory and computing power. Laser researchers seek higher-frequency beams that can focus on smaller targets. And engineers at major research centers strive to build miniature robots that can handle everything from surveillance to surgery.
“This could be the robot of the future,” says Ed Heller, a researcher on the Sandia project. Taking up only a quarter of a cubic inch, Sandia’s microbot rides on two track wheels powered by three watch batteries, and glides forward at a snail’s pace of 20 in. a minute.
The microbot has 8 kilobytes of memory, along with a simple temperature sensor. But future versions could be outfitted with anything from chemical sniffers to a miniaturized camera or microphone. Lightweight, mobile and small enough to be virtually invisible, specialized microbots may eventually perform tasks like searching for bombs. They could even be pressed into duty as mechanical spies that wait until their target opens his safe to take out secret papers, then climb up behind him to quickly snap a photo before scurrying back to their insect-size hiding place. “You might have to worry about what’s sitting under your desk,” Heller jokes.”