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Micromachines Grow Up
NEW YORK - Semiconductor giant Intel has been investing in what it sees to be the next big technological thing: tiny machines, in some cases, about the size of the salt crystal.
They're called Micro-electrical mechanical systems (MEMS). And it makes sense for Intel (nasdaq: INTC - news - people), Analog Devices (nyse: ADI - news - people) and Texas Instruments (nyse: TXN - news - people) to get into this business: They are already experts at etching tiny circuits on wafers of silicon to make computer chips; the semiconductor firms are now looking for new ways to utilize the lithography technology and silicon used to make MEMS.
"It does let these companies use the equipment and expertise they already have," says Peter Glaskowsky, analyst with MicroDesign Resources, a chip industry research firm based in Sunnyvale, Calif.
From the safety airbag that may already be in your car to the optical networking equipment that might one day direct your e-mail to the right place, there's no doubt that micromachines are beginning to loom large on the technological horizon. But the industry is still in its infancy, and ideas for how they may be used are just coming into focus.
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