This column presents technologies that have applications in commercial areas, possibly creating the products of tomorrow. To learn more about each technology, see the contact information provided for that innovation.

Silicon Photonic MEMS

A team of researchers at the University of Sydney has developed a new technology to combine optics and micro-electro mechanical systems (MEMS) in a microchip, paving the way for the creation of devices like micro-3D cameras and gas sensors for precision air quality measurement, including their use in mobile phones. Photonic MEMS are unique in that they are compact, consume very little power, are fast, support a broad range of optical carrier signals and have low optical loss. According to the team, the technology will advance knowledge in the field of micro- and nanofabrication, photonics, and semiconductors, with a wide range of applications including beam steering for LiDAR 3D sensing in autonomous vehicles, programmable photonic chips, or information processing in quantum photonics.

Contact: Luisa Low
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Biohybrid Neural Implant

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed a new type of neural implant that could restore limb function to amputees and others who have lost the use of their arms or legs. The device combines flexible electronics and human stem cells — the body’s ‘reprogrammable’ master cells — to better integrate with the nerve and drive limb function. By combining two advanced therapies for nerve regeneration into a single device, they can overcome the shortcomings of previous approaches, improving functionality and sensitivity. While extensive research and testing will be needed before it can be used in humans, the device is a promising development for amputees or those who have lost function of a limb or limbs.

Contact: Sarah Collins
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Micro-Robotic Arms

Until now, microscopic robotic systems have had to make do without arms. Now researchers at ETH Zurich have combined conventional robotics and microfluidics. They have developed a device that uses ultrasound and can be attached to a robotic arm. This lets them pump and mix minuscule amounts of liquid and trap particles. The device comprises a thin, pointed glass needle and a piezoelectric transducer that causes the needle to oscillate. The ETH researchers can vary the oscillation frequency of their glass needle. In addition to laboratory analysis, they envisage other applications for micro-robotic arms, such as sorting tiny objects. The arms could conceivably also be used in biotechnology as a way of introducing DNA into individual cells. It should ultimately be possible to employ them in additive manufacturing.

Contact: Fabio Bergamin
+41 44-632-4141
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