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Flying cars, drones, and now microbots—soon the skies may become as congested as the Santa Monica Freeway at rush hour. New drones that are almost microscopic in size change the field of almost every industrial, medical or surveillance system in the world. This is a completely new type of technology that will have bold impacts in the future.

Swarming technology is based upon new operating principles in which the swarm is self-organizing and self-directed.

Microbots are tiny robots, generally 1 millimeter and less in length. That’s smaller than the size of a pencil point. Research currently underway into Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) and nanoscale machinery will bring us these tiny robots.

Nanoscale machinery is likely to provide the engines, brains, and muscle power for these tiny devices.

Nanotechnology deals with machine measuring between 1 and 100 nm, falling between the atomic level and the micro scale. Currently, engineers are trying to use nano-size wires to create smaller, more powerful microprocessors and nanotubes to develop stronger construction materials.

We can expect to see microbots have a bold impact on society in at least four major areas—medicine, military, manufacturing, and surveillance. Imagine tiny robots scouring our arteries for plaque or blasting away kidney stones or cancer cells. Perhaps as miniature surgeons, the robots could perform microsurgeries. These little machines could have a significant impact on health and longevity and substantially reduce the overall cost of healthcare.

Whom Will Microbots Serve?

The military could use the tiny machines not only for surveillance but also to wreak havoc on an enemy. Microbots could be used to sabotage enemy weapons and weapons manufacturing facilities. As miniaturized weapons, microbots could be designed to kill or weaken enemy combatants. These tiny machines could revolutionize warfare. Swarming technology is based upon new operating principles in which the swarm is self-organizing and self-directed.

In manufacturing, microbots could be used to build complex material structures and micro-sized electronic components. Our smart phones and other gadgets could become even smaller and sturdier. Our clothes could be made indestructible.

The day may come when virtually invisible voyeurs could be watching without us even knowing. Government, news and entertainment media, friend, or foe—anyone with access to tiny flying robots could watch us 24 hours a day.  Surveillance equipment of this nature dwarfs anything Orwell imagined in 1984.

Like most technology, microbots themselves are neither good nor bad. It all depends upon the purpose to which we put them.  We are already seeing useful products coming from nanotechnology—Wrinkle and stain resistant fabrics (Eddie Bauer), deep-penetrating cosmetics (L’Oreal), and liquid crystal displays (LG’s Nano Cell LCD).

We can add microbots to the ever growing list of looming technologies that can serve, enslave, or destroy. Do we have the collective wisdom to assure that positive aims prevail?

Whether we are ready or not, the swarm is on its way—the coming microbot revolution.

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