Next Big Thing Is a Really Small Battery

Teeters thinks he and his students may have an ace in their new patent, because "a battery, or at least some sort of power supply, is crucial to all of these," he says.

That's why officials with two major players in electronics, Sanyo and Panasonic, talked with him at an international conference in Paris last May. So far, no contracts, but Teeters knows he's a bit premature. At the moment, there isn't much of a market for tiny batteries, because there aren't a lot of tiny devices out there yet.

But there will be. No doubt about that.

Battle of the Robots?

And there's also no doubt but that those tiny devices will change all of our lives. And that, naturally, has a lot of people worried.

Activists around the world, from Prince Charles down (or up, depending on your point of view) are demanding that government agencies take a closer look at the impact on society from nanotechnology. What's going to happen if we unleash zillions of microscopic robots to flood across our landscape, searching for God only knows what? Will we lose control?

That may sound a bit far-fetched, but the concerns are real, and facts and myths from both sides are bound to crowd into the philosophical arena in the years ahead. The National Science Foundation has already sunk $2 million into research on the societal impact of nanotechnogy and other agencies both in this country and abroad are doing the same.

The hope is that by attacking the subject early, perhaps it might be possible to assess the potential for good as well as evil in a rational, systematic way.

Wouldn't that be great, for a change?

Lee Dye’s column appears weekly on ABCNEWS.com. A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.

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