The microsystem technology typically found in cars is ready for other uses and this week a US government laboratory is holding a roadshow in Silicon Valley to demonstrated the possibilities and attract partners.
During this week's Microsystems Expo, the US Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories highlighted a chem-lab-on-a-chip micro machines that are used in cars, computers and compact disk players as well as in the world's smallest combination lock.
Although Sandia is a pioneer in microsystems it acknowledges it cannot promote the technology by itself and invited participation from potential partners to develop and commercialise the technology.
"If you have 20 million of these microsystems running around in an automobile application and they're functioning properly in all types of environmental conditions over long periods of time, then that gives you an understanding of its reliability and it will help give you the confidence that they can be used in weapons," said Paul McWhorter, deputy director for Sandia's Microsystems Center.
He continued: "We're at a critical point now in that we've got a number of different high-value technologies and we've got a number of commercial partners, but we're looking for ways to open the flood gates for additional partnerships and opportunities.".
He added that the growth in the functionality of microelectronic circuits, for the most part, has been limited to the processing power of the chip. Over the next 30 years, the incorporation of new types of structures will enable the chip to sense, act and communicate as well as think, he said.
For example, Sandia researchers, working with a California university, are developing a complete inertial measurement system on a chip. This work allows chips to be able to detect and understand motion. It will create a chip that is able to "know where it is." Applications for such technology exist in areas such as automotive, computation, aerospace and manufacturing.
It is developing an integrated microsystem that will reduce the functionality of a complete chemistry laboratory to a chip or several chips and be able to detect a variety of chemical and biological agents - an important tool in battling terrorism.
The researchers have also completed work in micro-optics. Researchers developed a revolutionary new optical microsystem called the photonic lattice, in which micromachined silicon is used to simulate, the optical characteristics of a natural crystal.
"Their impact on our lives over the next 30 years will be as profound as that of ICs [integrated circuits] over the last 30 years," said Duane Lindner, senior manager, Sandia National Laboratories.
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