Manipulation of Microscopic Objects with Nanometer Precision: Potentials and Limiations in Nano-Robot Design


Danuser G., Pappas I., Voegeli B., Zesch Wolfgang, Dual J.


submitted to Int'l J. of Robotics Research, August 1997.


micromanipulation, nanometer precision, precision mechanisms, light microscopy, resolution limit, adhesion, tele-operation, visual control, quantitative computer vision


In the past two decades, a large number of developments have paved new ways for technologies dedicated to the micrometer, nanometer and atomic scale. In solid-state technology the typical dimension has been decreased from the millimeter to fractions of a micrometer, chemistry has advanced in synthesizing molecules from a few-atom ensembles to structures of nanometer size, and physicists even managed to sense and manipulate single atoms. Related to this progress, an emerging challenge is the controlled treatment of nanometer sized objects as individuals.
This paper presents a robot system aimed at the manipulation of single objects in the nanometer range - also termed mesoscopic domain. The design and implementation of such a system demands large interdisciplinary efforts, joining the expertise of mechanical and electrical engineering, of optics and control theory, and of solid-state physics. In this report, we emphasize the interplay of these fields. Thus, we concentrate more on the conceptual aspects of system design rather than to discuss the frontiers of each of the discipline involved. The core of the paper focuses on the fundamental aspects in actuation, sensing and control of manipulation systems acting in the mesoscopic world, as well as the problems that arise with the handling of small individuals in contact mode. Indeed, the strategy of contact handling has prevented us from dealing with objects smaller than a few micrometers in size. Nevertheless, we claim notable contributions to the proceeding of technology towards the mesoscopic domain. In particular, we introduce novel concepts in the design of actuators with nanometer resolution and in their visual control using quantitative 3D light microscopy with high accuracy and resolution.
Various examples of manipulation tasks performed with a first prototype are demonstrated. Finally, we analyze the achievements with respect to their potential for further developments in the nano-technology.

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