Nanotech Scenario Series
Results of Our Ongoing Research
These pages, marked with
GREEN headings, are published for
comment and criticism. These
are not our final findings; some of these opinions will probably change.
LOG OF UPDATES
CRN Research: Overview of Current Findings
Powerful Products of Molecular
Overview: Even a primitive diamond-building
can create products vastly more powerful than today's versions. Electrical power
can be converted to motion, and vice-versa, with 10 times the efficiency and
about 108 (100,000,000) times more compactly. Computers can be 1012
times smaller and use 106 times less power. Materials can be about
100 times stronger. This means that most human-scale products would consist
almost entirely of empty space, reducing weight, material requirements, and cost. Most of
the rest of the product would be structural, easy to design. Even the simplest
products could be software-controlled at no extra cost. Manufacturing of
prototypes would be quite rapid—a few minutes to a few hours. Because
manufacturing and prototyping are the same process, a successful prototype
design could immediately be distributed for widespread use. A designer working
with a few basic predesigned blocks could design, build, and test a simple
product in less than a day. Products with complex interfaces to humans or to the
environment—information appliances, automobiles, aerospace hardware, medical
devices—would be limited by the time required to develop their software and
test their functionality. However, in some fields the high time and money cost
of manufacture slows other parts of the development cycle; this effect would
disappear. An explosion of new, useful products could rapidly follow the
widespread availability of a nanofactory.
nanofactory is a good way to build large, useful MNT products.
efforts toward a
molecular manufacturing capability will probably produce
something like the nanofactory described in CRN's paper, "Design
of a Primitive Nanofactory". A
nanofactory is a system for combining
nanoscale parts to make large-scale
objects. Starting with a basic
molecular nanotechnology (MNT) self-duplicating
fabricator, a nano-scale device that can copy itself from simple
chemicals, a personal nanofactory (PN) can be built in just a few weeks.
Then it can start making duplicate PNs, and then products. The first
nanofactory will probably be almost as simple as the one analyzed in that
paper. The products it produces may not be the best possible, but this
analysis is useful to show that MNT products can be at least this powerful.
||The nanofactory uses a very simple and limited method of
building products. Functionality must be contained within small blocks,
which must then be fastened together by the trillions to make a product. In
this design, the blocks are only 200 nm (nanometers) on a side. However,
this is big enough to hold a small CPU or a motor. Larger functionality can
be split between blocks—power, force, and signal can all be transferred
between the blocks by simple, efficient interfaces. A product that needs a
supercomputer or a powerful motor can combine smaller computers or motors. This splitting will add some inefficiency, but not enough to seriously
impair the product. As analyzed below, MNT-built machines will be many
times better than conventional machines, and products made by dividing the
machines among nanoblocks will still be many times better.
Products can be 5 times as strong, 10 times as efficient, and millions
of times as compact—
MNT-built diamond products can be at least ten times stronger than steel,
100 times stronger than aluminum or plastic. (Mechanical joints between
blocks cost some percentage of pure diamond strength, so nanoblock products
may not be as strong as pure diamond). This means that space used for
structure in today's products can be left empty or filled with functional
Assuming that computation power scales linearly with speed
and transistor count, the "mobile" version of the Pentium 4 uses about six
million times more power per computation than a rod-logic nanocomputer. The fastest computer in the world, as of this writing, is the NEC Earth
Simulator. It includes 640 8-processor nodes using 20 kW apiece, for a
total of 13 MW (ignoring the large crossbar switch). It also includes
10 TB of RAM, and fills a large building. Assuming that the Earth
Simulator's power consumption per operation is comparable to the Pentium 4,
a comparable massively parallel nanocomputer would require 2 watts. The CPUs would require a volume of 8 million cubic
microns, and the memory
an additional 3 million cubic microns. The entire computer could fit
into a cubic
millimeter, so is trillions of times more compact.
||Motors can be built as small as 50 nm wide. At that
scale, they will be electrostatic rather than electromagnetic. When running
at high speed, such a motor can convert more than 500,000 watts of power per
cubic millimeter at better than 99% efficiency. An electrostatic motor does
not require any current flow to maintain magnetic fields, so it becomes even
more efficient at low speed and high torque. The motor also functions as a
DC generator without modification. Like computers, motors will require
essentially no volume in human-scale products. Power can be transferred
efficiently by rotating mechanical rods: a rod 100 microns in diameter can
transmit 1,000 watts.
Products can be designed in days and distributed in hours.
many ways, MNT product design will be similar to software design. Products will be designed in a CAD (computer-aided design) system and built
in a fully automated factory. Design of the user interface will usually be
far more difficult than design of the internal workings. The structure can
be specified by simple volume-filling operations; the function (computation
and power use) can be likewise simple, but since functional components will
be small enough to fit almost anywhere in the product, designers will be
tempted to include complicated user interfaces. The time to build a
prototype will be measured in minutes or hours, rather than the weeks it can
take to produce a mechanical prototype with today's processes. A designer
may work on a design, send it to the personal nanofactory, go to lunch, test the
product, decide it's not quite right, make a change, and build a second
version before quitting time. This will cause significant improvements in
the process of developing new products. The process will be far easier,
faster, and cheaper than it is today.
||Once a product is designed, it can be put into production
immediately. The same manufacturing process that built the prototype can be
used, without modification, to build as many copies as desired. For
products designed in terms of volume-filling and functional specification,
the product data file can be pretty small—perhaps under a gigabyte for
simple products—so it can be transferred to PNs anywhere. Not
only the design cycle, but the production and distribution time, will shrink
to less than a day.
Products can even be pre-designed.
software for product design can be developed long before personal nanofactories
become available. Once design software is available, product designs can be
created. Thousands of products can be designed in advance for a
hypothetical PN. Most product designs will use "virtual materials"
consisting of arrays of nanoblocks, since 200 nm is far smaller than
necessary for the precision of most designs. When the real nanofactory is
developed, the virtual materials will be translated into nanoblocks. All predesigned products would then be available for immediate production. It's
unclear whether this would be worth doing, but it certainly could be done. One benefit is that
MNT product designers could be trained in advance. Regardless of whether products are pre-designed before
or designed rapidly after they arrive, it is clear that a nanofactory can
rapidly be put to use, replacing a large fraction of the industry,
materials, and transportation required for today's industrial
DEVIL'S ADVOCATE —
Submit your criticism, please!
Won't a nanoblock design be too limiting in what you can
A nanoblock-based design throws away almost all possible
structures and a large fraction of the theoretical maximum performance.
"Virtual materials" design throws away still more. But what's left is still
revolutionary. Computer programmers do the same thing. There are eleven
simplifications, or levels of abstraction, between the silicon and the screen.
The plan described here uses just three levels of abstraction: diamond
chemistry, nanoblocks, and virtual materials.
You're making this sound too easy. It can't be that easy
in real life.
Using the full capabilities of molecular nanotechnology
would be extremely hard. But once we can build a fabricator, the
rest—including the personal nanofactory—can use the easiest and most reliable
fraction of the possibilities. By the time we can build a fabricator, we'll be
able to build thousands of diamond shapes. Nanoblocks only need hundreds of
shapes to make thousands of blocks. Products only need hundreds of different
types of nanoblocks. Just pick the best designs and throw away the rest.
Next Page: Benefits of
Personal Nanofactories (PNs)
Overview of Current Findings