Such tiny machines are already everywhere -- telling your smartphone screen to rotate and your camera to focus -- and have a variety of applications in consumer electronics, automobiles and medicine.
Microelectromechanical systems, better known as MEMS, are usually produced from silicon, but researchers at Tel Aviv University report they've developed a way to print biocompatible micro-machine components onto polymer membranes more suitable for implantation in the human body.
Such membranes could be used in applications such as diagnostic test devices and smart prosthetics, they said.
Switching to MEMS made with the polymer membranes could help make prosthetics more comfortable, efficient and safer for use on or inside the body, they said.
"The use of new, soft materials in micro devices stretches both the imagination and the limits of technology," Tel Aviv University doctoral candidate Leyya Engel said, "but introducing polymer MEMS to industry can only be realized with the development of printing technologies that allow for low-cost mass production."
The printing process could lead to functional sensors and actuators made almost entirely out of the polymer at the micro- and nano-scales, she said, eventually creating things like artificial muscles.