An agreement has been established for UT Arlington to hold the intellectual properties while WinMEMS explores the commercialization opportunities. UT Arlington has applied for a provisional patent.
Currently, WinMEMS has been showcasing UT Arlington's works on its website and in public presentations, which include the micro-windmills, gears, inductors, pop-up switches and grippers. All of those parts are as tiny as a fraction of the diameter of a human hair.
These inventions are essential to build micro-robots that can be used as surgical tools, sensing machines to explore disaster zones or manufacturing tools to assemble micro-machines.
"It's very gratifying to first be noticed by an international company and second to work on something like this where you can see immediately how it might be used," said Rao, who earned her Ph.D in 2009 at UT Arlington. "However, I think we've only scratched the surface on how these micro-windmills might be used." The micro windmills were tested successfully in September 2013 in Chiao's lab. The windmills operate under strong artificial winds without any fracture in the material because of the durable nickel alloy and smart aerodynamic design.
"The problem most MEMS designers have is that materials are too brittle," Rao said. "With the nickel alloy, we don't have that same issue. They're very, very durable."
The micro-windmills can be made in an array using the batch processes. The fabrication cost of making one device is the same as making hundreds or thousands on a single wafer, which enables for mass production of very inexpensive systems.
"Imagine that they can be cheaply made on the surfaces of portable electronics," Chiao said, "so you can place them on a sleeve for your smart phone. When the phone is out of battery power, all you need to do is to put on the sleeve, wave the phone in the air for a few minutes and you can use the phone again."
|Contact: Herb Booth|
University of Texas at Arlington