Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) are barely visible robots. Bruce Donald, a professor of computer science and biochemistry at Duke, has been working on microrobots since 1992. His team has designed a set of MEMS that, in his words, "constitutes the first implementation of an untethered, multi-microrobotic system."1
Professor Donald has been able to manufacture these remotely-controlled, preprogrammed tiny devices only after careful study of pre-existing biochemical technology. The devices perform pre-specified motions controlled by electrochemical impulses. Science News reports that this “is akin to ways proteins in cells respond to chemical signals, said Donald, who also uses computer algorithms to study processes in biochemistry and biology.”2
This accomplishment took a team of scientists 16 years to achieve. Although MEMS serve no functional purpose yet, either singly or in sets, we presume that Professor Donald is attempting to mimic aspects of proteins, which are similar in some respects to robots. A protein can catalyze specific biochemical reactions with reliable precision. The amazingly small and ingeniously-designed MEMS basically wiggles, albeit in a programmed pattern. Also, as small as it is, a MEMS is about 10,000 times larger than a protein.
Smaller devices require greater genius, which is easily seen by comparing the prices of laptops to desktop computers. Certainly this principle applies to the original Designer of proteins, which are the ultimate in miniaturization and specificity of function. The best came first. Extant proteins may have degraded since their creation, but even in their present state of decay, the gulf between the man-made and God-made is grand indeed.
- Micro-robots Dance on Something Smaller Than a Pin’s Head. Science News. Posted on ScienceDaily.com June 3, 2008, accessed June 4, 2008.
* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer.
Article posted on June 6, 2008.