OK, we know that tiny houses are becoming increasingly popular, but this is really taking things to an extreme. In order to demonstrate the capabilities of a new nanorobotic system, French scientists have built a "microhouse" that sits on the cleaved end of an optical fiber.

The diminutive home was built by a team from the Femto-ST Institute in Besançon, France, using the new μRobotex nanofactory system. That setup utilizes a robotically-controlled ion gun and a gas injection system, operating within a large vacuum chamber, to assemble microstructures on the tips of optical fibers with extreme accuracy.

Guided by a dual beam scanning electron microscope, two engineers working at multiple computers used μRobotex to build the silica-membrane house on an area measuring just 300 by 300 micrometers (a micrometer, or micron, is one one-millionth of a meter).

A focused ion beam was used to cut or score a flat sheet of the membrane which was then folded to form the basic structure, with the gas injection system subsequently being utilized to weld its joined edges together. A lower-powered ion beam, working along with the gas injection system, was then used to sputter the "tiles" (the two stripes in the photo) onto the roof.

And while there may not be much call for microhouses in the grand scheme of things, μRobotex could also be used for more practical applications. It could, for instance, assemble sensing elements on the tips of optical fibers as thin as a human hair, which could then be inserted into blood vessels to detect viral molecules.

Until now, using non-robotized systems, such fine work has reportedly not been possible. In fact, as more aspects of μRobotex become automated, the scientists are ultimately hoping to build even smaller structures on the ends of carbon nanotubes measuring just 20 to 100 nanometers in diameter (a nanometer is one one-billionth of a meter).

"For the first time we were able to realize patterning and assembly with less than 2 nanometers of accuracy, which is a very important result for the robotics and optical community," says Jean-Yves Rauch, author of a paper on the research.

That paper was recently published in the Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology A.

Source: American Institute of Physics