First came micromachines--engines about the size of a grain of sand. Now there are microtransmissions. Fabricated by researchers at Sandia National Laboratories, they remarkably augment the power of the tiny engines. Looking through a microscope one would see a spindly, one-millimeter-thick Allen wrench passed over a microtransmission. The sight resembles the huge alien space ship that darkened and then covered New York in the movie "Independence Day." Despite its size, a microtransmission can increase the power of its microengine by a factor of 3 million, theoretically generating enough force to move a one-lb object, says researchers Steve Rodgers and Jeff Sniegowski. The microtransmissions operate on the same principle that allows a multigear bicycle to be pedaled up a steep hill more easily than a single-speed bike: No more input force is used, but a the force is applied over a shorter portion of the wheel's turn. The 3 million:1 Sandia microtransmission comprises six identical transmission systems, each with two dual-level gears. The two gears, crafted one atop the other, operate at ratios of 3:1 and 4:1, which together form a 12:1 gear reduction ratio. A coupling gear allows more gear sets to be added in modules. E-mail Paul McWhorter at email@example.com.
Two researchers from Cornell University have won a $100,000 grant from NASA to continue work to develop an energy-harvesting robotic eel the space agency aims to use to explore oceans on one of the moons of Jupiter.
Is the factory smarter than it used to be? From recent buzzwords, you’d think we’ve entered a new dimension in industrial plants, where robots run all physical functions wirelessly and humans do little more than program ever more capable robotics. Some of that is actually true, but it’s been true for a while.
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