Large robots are more familiar, but there's a big need for miniature machines capable of precisely positioning such things as electrical circuits. IBM has unveiled amicro-robot more than 100 times as sensitive as the typical industrialrobot.
Called a "fine positioner," the robot is 4 inches by 5 inches, and 2 inches thick. Instead of gears, motors, and bearings, it has just one moving part, a metal plate that glides frictionlessly on a layer of compressed air. A computer-controlled electromagnetic field guides the plate's movements. This micro-robot fits on the end of a conventional robot's arm and works to a precision of two-tenths of a thousandth of a millimeter, or 0.2 micron.
Developed at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., the micro-robot is being tested at several manufacturing sites for such tasks as positioning circuitry and computer chips. IBM plans to gear up for industrial use by early 1993.