You know that terrible feeling in your gut when you've eaten something you shouldn't have? Well imagine having a Roomba small enough to swallow, one that could clean up that mess inside you. That's not exactly what DARPA had in mind when it funded the creation of this penny-sized vacuum, although it certainly should have been.
But highly sensitive gas analysers that can detect biological weapon attacks, and incredibly accurate microscopic atomic clocks are cool too. This is why DARPA set researchers from the University of Michigan, MIT and Honeywell International on the task. The minuscule vacuum pump pictured here was developed at the University of Michigan and uses an array of tiny hexagonal compartments connected with even smaller channels to maximise their suction. It sadly can't be used to clean up chip crumbs, but as a way to cool tiny electronics, it could revolutionise smartphones.
And this is actually one of the larger micro vacuums the researchers had created. Other examples are smaller than a dime, and the breakthroughs from this research could eventually lead to mechanical vacuums that exist on the microscopic scale, giving high-performance processors their own built-in cooling fans. [DARPA via Popular Science]