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Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Scientists develop internet jambuster
Scientist and microscope
Micromachines are less than the width of a human hair
Scottish scientists have developed a prototype of a microscopic machine which they believe will be able to speed up internet functions.

Micromachines, less than the width of a human hair, could ease bottlenecks which occur when laser signals have to change direction, scientists said.

Experts at the University of Strathclyde said the tiny devices could act as switches, whose adjustable mirrors make laser signals change direction.

They said the micromachines could ease the jams which occur when light pulses have to change to electronic pulses, then back again, at crossover points in the fibre-optic cables which form the internet's backbone.

People are demanding more and more of the internet, and companies across the world are relying on it more and more in their daily business.

Professor Deepak Uttamchandani
The switch means data is more likely to stay in one form during its journey through the internet, and should take a shorter time to reach computer screens.

The Strathclyde team also believe the machines could be used in medical research and drug delivery.

The switches use mirrors measuring less than a quarter of a millimetre to direct internet data from one optical fibre to another.

The mirrors are precisely positioned by using microscopic hinges attached to the machines, and the machines themselves move on tiny silicon rails.

Prototype stage

Professor Deepak Uttamchandani, of Strathclyde's department of electronic and electrical engineering, said: "People are demanding more and more of the internet, and companies across the world are relying on it more and more in their daily business.

"But the technology which connects the internet backbone is being stretched to its limits.

"The technical limitations in the way data is currently sent through the network mean delays for users wanting to download information and services."

The Strathclyde team, which has brought the device to the working prototype stage, believe they could also be used as low-power switches inside mobile phones, offering smaller phone sizes, more features, and better power consumption.

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