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"Every scientist worth his salt that I know of has read science fiction."
- Greg Bear

Fairy Digits (Tiny Waldoes)  
  Waldoes used for very fine work.  

The smallest waldoes he had used up to this time were approximately half an inch across their palms — with micro scanners to match, of course. They were much too gross for his purpose. He wished to manipulate living nerve tissues, examine its insulation and its performance in situ.

He used the tiny waldoes to create tinier ones.

The last stage were tiny metal blossoms hardly an eighth of an inch across. The helices in their stems, or forearms, which served them as pseudo muscles, could hardly be seen by the naked eye - but, then, he used scanners.

His final team of waldoes used for nerve and brain surgery varied in succeeding stages from mechanical hands nearly life size down to these fairy digits which could manipulate things much too small for the eye to see. 'They were mounted in bank to work in the same locus. Waldo controlled them all from the same primaries ; he could switch from one size to another without removing his gauntlets. The same change in circuits which brought another size of waldoes under control automatically accomplished the change in sweep of scanning to increase or decrease the magnification so that Waldo always saw before him in his stereo receiver a “life-size” image of his other hands.

Each level of waldoes had its own surgical instruments, its own electrical equipment. Such surgery had never been seen before, but Waldo gave that aspect little thought— no one had told him that such surgery was unheard of.

From Waldo, by Robert Heinlein.
Published by Astounding Science Fiction in 1942
Additional resources -

See the accompanying article for waldo from the same story.

Compare to microsurgery tool from Masson's Secret (1939) by Raymond Z. Gallun and microhands from Microhands (1931) by Boris Zhitkov.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Waldo
  More Ideas and Technology by Robert Heinlein
  Tech news articles related to Waldo
  Tech news articles related to works by Robert Heinlein

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