Imagine a robotic David Beckham six times smaller than an amoeba playing with a "soccer ball" no wider than a human hair with all of the action happening on a field the size of single grain of rice.
It may sound like the stuff of science fiction but from 2007 to 2009, nanosoccer was serious business for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
During those years, NIST, the federal agency that advances U.S. innovation and competitiveness, partnered with industry, universities and other organizations to move us toward a future where robots smaller than the eye can see are put to work in a variety of ways.
NIST conducted its nanosoccer competitions and demonstrations in conjunction with RoboCup, an international organization dedicated to using the game of soccer as a testing ground for the robotics technologies of the future. NIST's goal in coordinating competitions between the world's smallest robots—known as nanobots (nanoscale robots)—was to show the feasibility and accessibility of technologies for fabricating MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS), tiny mechanical devices built onto semiconductor chips and measured in micrometers (millionth of a meter).
The soccer nanobots were operated by remote control under an optical microscope. They moved in response to changing magnetic fields or electrical signals transmitted across the microchip arena. Although the bots were a few tens of micrometers to a few hundred micrometers long, they were considered "nanoscale" because their masses ranged from a few nanograms to a few hundred nanograms. They were manufactured from materials such as aluminum, nickel, gold, silicon and chromium.
In this website, you will learn more about nanosoccer, how it worked and how its lessons helped pave a path toward working microrobots that can dramatically improve our quality of life.
Microchip with Nanosoccer Fields of Play
Nanosoccer Field of Play (Diagram)
Photomicrograph of Open Nanosoccer Field
Photomicrograph of Nanosoccer Field with Defenders
How Small is a Nanobot?