microhouse

This Is the Smallest House in the World

What is this, a house for one-celled organisms?

Becky Ferreira

Becky Ferreira

If you’re in the market for a new house, check out this unique cottage built by the Femto-ST Institute in Besançon, France. With its cute tiled-roof, side windows, and unprecedented snugness, the home is a genuine one-off. The only catch: You have to be smaller than an amoeba to inhabit it.

Granted, that probably rules most of our eukaryote readers out. But even if it’s not a particularly convenient starter home for us regular-sized folks, this “microhouse” is still a fascinating achievement. It is literally the smallest house ever constructed, on a foundation that measures 300 by 300 micrometers—about half the size of the average sand grain—while the house itself is only about 20 micrometers long.

Step by step construction of house. Image: FEMTO-ST Institute

In order to create such a well-rendered structure on this scale, the Femto-ST Institute team had to integrate several different technologies—lab-on-fiber systems, optical sensing techniques, robot actuators—into one device, which the researchers call the μROBOTEX platform. The novel construction process involves a very small robot that assembles models from silica membranes inside a vacuum chamber, origami-style, as outlined in a new study published in The Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology A.

“The μRobotex station is a very powerful tool,” the authors, led by engineer Jean-Yves Rauch, report in the paper, citing “the high accuracy of the robotic arm” as one of the key reasons that the station can build these precision structures.

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The microhouse is a fun demonstration of what this technology can do, but ultimately, Rauch and his colleagues aim to use μROBOTEX to develop more practical applications, like specialized high-precision sensors. For instance, optical fibers created on the platform could be installed into aircraft to monitor engine conditions, or into blood vessels to detect viruses.

But given that this platform has only been operational since 2014, it will likely take many years of experiments to optimize these new types of devices. Until then, bring on more microhouses.

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