Move over, Roomba. Make way for Fukitorimushi, an autonomous floor-cleaning robot that crawls like an inchworm and uses a super-absorbent nanofiber cloth to wipe up microscopic dust and residue that ordinary vacuums leave behind. Unveiled at the recent Tokyo Fiber Senseware exposition in Milan, Fukitorimushi (lit. "wipe-up bug") is designed by Panasonic and incorporates nanofiber technology developed by textile maker Teijin, Ltd.
The robot cleans by simply dragging its nanocloth belly across the floor as it slowly crawls around in search of dirt. (Watch the video.)
Fukitorimushi, which moves around by flexing and stretching its body like an inchworm, uses "feelers" of blue-white light to search for floor grime. When it finds a dirty spot, the robot emits a red light and devotes extra effort to cleaning that area. After it has finished cleaning, the machine returns to its charging station to replenish its battery.
Fukitorimushi's body is covered in Teijin's Nanofront cloth, which is made of polyester filament fibers measuring 700 nanometers in diameter (about 7,500 times thinner than the average human hair). The nanofibers significantly increase the fabric's surface area and porosity, giving it superior wiping characteristics and the ability to absorb oil and ultra-fine dust particles less than one micron in diameter. The large surface contact area also increases the fabric's friction with the floor and makes it resistant to sliding. The robot relies on this increased friction to push itself forward while wiping the floor.
According to its creators, Fukitorimushi is also designed to engage the emotions and foster a closer relationship between humans and machines. The way the machine creeps across the floor may seem a little strange at first, but the designers say people tend to grow fond of the robotic creature after watching it for a while. In addition, the owner must periodically replace Fukitorimushi's nanocloth cover with a clean one. The designers suggest this task of looking after the Fukitorimushi may encourage a pet-like affection for the machine.
An Osaka University research team has demonstrated an "atomic pen" that can inscribe nano-sized text on metal by manipulating individual atoms on the surface.
According to the researchers, whose results appear in the October 17 edition of Science magazine, the atomic pen is built on a previous discovery that silicon atoms at the tip of an atomic force microscope probe will interchange with the tin atoms in the surface of a semiconductor sample when in close proximity. Using this atom-interchange phenomenon, the researchers were able to arrange individual silicon atoms one by one on a semiconductor surface to spell out the letters "Si." The writing process, which took about an hour and a half to complete, was conducted at room temperature.
The completed text measures 2 x 2 nanometers, which is roughly 40,000 times smaller than the width of the average human hair.
"It's not possible to write any smaller than this," said Masayuki Abe, a researcher involved in the project.
The ability to incorporate individual atoms into a surface could lead to a variety of advances in atomic scale technology, the researchers suggest. If used in chip manufacturing, for example, this technology could help build powerful computers the size of a wristwatch.
In a technological advance that opens up new possibilities in the fields of robotics and wearable computing, researchers at the University of Tokyo have developed a stretchable, rubbery material that conducts electricity and can be incorporated into electronic devices.
The researchers -- led by assistant professor Takao Someya of the University of Tokyo -- were able to create elastic electronic circuits that could be stretched up to 1.7 times their original size without affecting performance, thanks to conductive wires made from a new carbon nanotube-polymer composite they developed.
In recent years, scientists have made advances in blending carbon nanotubes (good conductors of electricity) with polymers to make flexible conductive materials, but success has been limited because nanotubes tend to cluster together, causing the composite to harden when too many nanotubes are added. The University of Tokyo researchers were able to overcome this hurdle by mixing the nanotubes with an ionic liquid containing charged particles that keep the nanotubes evenly distributed and prevent them from clumping together. The result is a stretchable material that conducts electricity more than 500 times better than other commercially available carbon nanotube-polymer blends.
With the list of potential uses of stretchable electronic circuits limited only by the imagination, the researchers envision applications ranging from high-tech suits that enhance athletic performance and monitor the wearer's physical condition, to soft machines with flexible mechanical parts. For robots, elastic electronic circuits will enable layers of soft, sensor-laden skin to be stretched tightly across the curves of their bodies, giving them both a more lifelike appearance and greater sensitivity to touch.
The research results were published in the online edition of Science (August 8).
It won't fill you up, but it is a feast for the eyes (if you look through a microscope). This so-called "world's smallest bowl of ramen" -- a 1-micron (1/1000-mm, or 1/100th the width of a human hair) wide bowl containing dozens of 20-nanometer (1/50,000-mm) thick noodles -- was created by University of Tokyo professor Masayuki Nakao as part of an effort to develop new carbon nanotube-based microcircuit fabrication technology. Nakao used a metal particle beam to carve the bowl from silicon, and he mixed up a soup of ethanol and catalyst inside the bowl to form the carbon nanotube "noodles." According to Nakao, it was a major challenge to keep the bowl from overflowing. No word yet on how the tiny meal tastes.
In a development that brings superdense memory devices and molecule-sized machines a step closer to reality, scientists at Japan's Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) have succeeded in creating 1-nanometer-thick electric wires with a layer of insulation. According to a January 2 RIKEN press release, the researchers grew the insulated nanowire crystals through a process involving a mixture of conductive and non-conductive organic molecules that organized themselves into the desired configuration.
For perspective, 10 hydrogen atoms laid side by side measure about 1 nanometer across, and a human hair is around 70,000 to 80,000 nanometers thick.
While scientists in the past have succeeded in creating nanowires from carbon nanotubes, metals and other materials, a great challenge has been to provide insulation to these microscopic wires so that they can be put to use in integrated circuits without short-circuiting. Another challenge has been to develop technology that enables nanowires to be arranged into regular arrays.
RIKEN researchers have overcome these challenges by developing a nanowire growth process that uses a tetrathiafulvalene (TTF) derivative -- an organic molecule that conducts electricity -- and non-conductive iodine-containing neutral molecules (HFTIEB), which together self-assemble into crystals that function as insulated nanowires. The researchers, who indicated success in organizing the nanowires into regular patterns, also demonstrated a certain degree of control over the crystal structure, creating two-conductor nanowires and insulation coatings of various thicknesses. The results suggest it may soon be possible to engineer these insulated nanowires for use in practical applications.
RIKEN's insulated nanowires have the potential to be used as a basic component in superdense 3D storage media that rely on molecular memory arrays, say the researchers, who indicate that memory devices built on this technology would be able to store up to 100 petabytes (100 million gigabytes) of data per cubic centimeter, or about 400,000 times more than today's typical desktop PC hard drive (250 GB) in a device the size of a sugar cube. If used in logic circuits, this type of wiring technology would revolutionize the electronics industry as we know it, the researchers add.
Wake up and smell the pencil lead, says Japanese stationery and writing instrument manufacturer Pentel, who has combined the power of nanotechnology with the knowledge of expert aromatherapists to develop a new type of fragrant pencil lead. Featuring a long-lasting aroma designed to enhance mental capacity, the pencil lead -- called "Ain supplio" -- recently won the coveted Stationery of the Year Award (2007).
Unlike previous types of fragrant lead, which use weak aromatic surface coatings that tend to lose their smell quickly, Ain supplio relies on fragrant ingredients trapped in nanocapsules, or tiny air bubbles, which are infused into the lead itself. The microscopic size of the nanocapsules gives them extra strength to hold their fragrance for long periods of time -- about 3 years if kept in the unopened package, 2 years if kept in their plastic case, and more than 3 months out in the open air.
Tentatively priced at 210 yen (under $2) per set, Ain supplio comes in three flavors -- Refresh, Healing and Positive -- each prepared by aromatherapists working with ingredients such as rosemary, mint, lemongrass and green tea. The aromatic blends are specially designed to boost the learning capacity of those in smelling range, says Pentel, who hopes the product will appeal to students. Ain supplio will hit shelves in September, just in time for the fall semester.
A team of researchers led by professor Hideo Hosono of the Tokyo Institute of Technology has developed a new type of alumina cement that conducts electricity like metal by altering the crystal structure at the nano level.
Ordinary alumina cement made from a lime-alumina compound (C12A7) has a crystal structure consisting of asymmetric cages, making it a poor conductor of electricity. But by sealing the alumina cement compound along with titanium inside a glass tube and heating it to 1,100 degrees Celsius, the researchers were able to create a homogenized, symmetrical cage structure that conducts electricity like metal.
Results indicate the cement's electrical conductivity is on par with that of manganese at room temperature. Moreover, like other metals, the cement's conductivity increases as its temperature decreases.
The researchers say that forming the cement into thin membranes would make it nearly transparent, making it an ideal substitute material for rare metals such as indium, which is used in plasma and liquid-crystal displays. In addition to being cheaper than rare metals, the cement would make an environmentally-friendly alternative because its ingredients are more readily available.
The Tokyo Institute of Technology worked with researchers from Osaka Prefecture University, the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN), and the Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute (SPring-8) to develop the cement. The results are published in the April 11 edition of Nano Letters.
On February 1, Toppan Printing unveiled new nanotext printing technology for inserting microscopic text into holographic images. The company says they plan to use nanotext to provide an extra layer of security to their "Crystagram" holographic anti-counterfeit technology. Test production is set to begin later this month.
Toppan's holographic nanotext printing uses electron beams (EB) to print characters 30 times smaller than possible with existing "microtext" technology. With a resolution of about 100 nanometers, it is now possible to print more than 20 holographic characters in a space the width of a human hair (about 80 microns).
Holograms have long been used as an effective method for preventing the counterfeit of items ranging from gift certificates to credit cards to luxury brand products, but organizations find themselves locked into a race with counterfeiters that are quick to adopt new technologies. Nanotext, Toppan argues, provides the next hurdle for counterfeiters to overcome.
Toppan is now working on the technology necessary for mass production, and full market release is scheduled for autumn 2007. The company is aiming for first-year sales of 300 million yen ($2.5 million).
Major vacuum equipment manufacturer ULVAC has announced plans to enter the fishing tackle industry with a new type of lure featuring a nanocoating applied with special vacuum technology. The high-tech lure, called STROM, will go on sale online in October.
Relying on a vapor deposition polymerization technique used in semiconductor manufacturing, an optical coating is formed over the entire glossy surface of the lure. The ultrathin optical coating has a high degree of light transmission, giving the lure an iridescent "holographic color" that changes according to the viewing angle.
Fishing lures typically use motion and color to attract the attention of fish, and they often feature decals and paint designed to reflect sunlight. These conventional lures are only capable of reflecting light in one direction, though, putting them at a distinct disadvantage when compared to STROM.
In tests, anglers using STROM caught 4 times as many fish as those using other commercially available lures. The company claims the lure appeals to freshwater fish such as trout, as well as to reef-dwelling saltwater fish such as rockfish.
ULVAC's initial plans are to roll out two types of STROM lures -- one weighing 2.4 grams and one weighing 3.7 grams. The lures will be priced at 3,000 yen ($US25) and will only be available online. The company hopes to sell 6,000 units.
"Now, even beginners can enjoy lure fishing," says the president of Tigold Corporation, the ULVAC subsidiary handling sales.