Further developments in the field of microtechnology with the development by the University of Waterloo of a magnetically-levitating microbot with laser-controlled manipulators:
The micro-robot has pincers that can be opened by heating them with a laser. When the laser is turned off, the pincers cool and close.
“Since there is no wiring, and the robot freely floats in air, it can operate in an enclosed chamber while the whole setup is outside,” Khamesee said. “It can work in hazardous environments, toxic chambers, and it can be used to conduct bio-hazardous experiments. Also, since there is no mechanical linkage, it has a dust-free operation, suitable for clean room applications.”
This is starting to approach some of the microbot widgetry described in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.
[via Technovelgy][image and article from cnet]
A classic Big Dumb Object is discussed in Short Sharp Science: a space elevator combined with a maglev launcher to propel prospective lunar colonists into orbit:
The lunar elevator doesn’t actually reach the regolith. Instead, the elevator ribbon ends 10 kilometres shy of the lunar surface so that no lunar mountain peaks hit the end, or terminus, of the orbiting elevator.
So how do astronauts make that 10 km jump to the elevator’s dangling tail? Easy: as the terminus passes overhead, they are fired in a magnetically levitated train along a track that’s been laid across the lunar plain and which gradually eases upwards to become vertical.
If they are fired at just the right time – and I wouldn’t like to be the person specifying or writing the software to do that, they are caught by some kind of robotic grappler at the terminus, which attaches the train to the ribbon.
[image from Hamed Saber on flickr]