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Current Results of Our 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   

bulletTimeline for Molecular Manufacturing   
bulletProducts of Molecular Manufacturing
bulletBenefits of Molecular Manufacturing
bulletDangers of Molecular Manufacturing  
bulletNo Simple Solutions
bulletAdministration Options
bulletThe Need for Early Development
bulletThe Need for International Development
bulletThirty Essential Nanotechnology Studies
bulletStudy #8     YOU ARE HERE

Thirty Essential Nanotechnology Studies - #8

Overview of all studies: Because of the largely unexpected transformational power of molecular manufacturing, it is urgent to understand the issues raised. To date, there has not been anything approaching an adequate study of these issues. CRN's recommended series of thirty essential studies is organized into five sections, covering fundamental theory, possible technological capabilities, bootstrapping potential, product capabilities, and policy questions. Several preliminary conclusions are stated, and because our understanding points to a crisis, a parallel process of conducting the studies is urged. 

CRN is actively looking for researchers interested in performing or assisting with this work. Please contact CRN Research Director Chris Phoenix if you would like more information or if you have comments on the proposed studies.

Study #8 What will be required to develop diamondoid machine-phase chemical manufacturing and products?
  This explores the various steps needed to develop a complete manufacturing system based on diamondoid vacuum mechanosynthesis.
Subquestion How much computer time and human creativity would it take to invent, then simulate and verify a set of diamondoid-building (and/or graphene-building) reactions?
Preliminary answer Robert Freitas has proposed a $5 million, five-year project to do just that; the project would also simulate the construction of nanodevices using these reactions.
Subquestion What will be involved in developing a non-diamondoid manipulation system that can carry out the required manipulations to build the first system?
Preliminary answer Unknown, but it should be noted that we can now lithographically fabricate features that are smaller than the molecules we can engineer. In other words, we can build pretty much any shape at any size scale.
Subquestion How reliably can the operation of diamondoid machine parts be simulated? What would be the cost and development time of a CAD/simulation system capable of extracting mechanical characterization from molecular dynamics simulation of such parts?
Preliminary answer Unknown, but this is a much easier problem than characterizing proteins: the parts involved are much stiffer, and energetic computations can afford to be much less accurate. Hydrocarbon MM packages have been around for years (e.g. Brenner) and are now appearing in open source software (e.g. NanoHive).
Subquestion How many parts and surfaces would be needed to constitute a complete set of low-level structural and functional components? How much human effort would be required to develop them?
Preliminary answer Unknown. Low-level components include rotational, helical, and flat bearings; conductive and insulating components; molecular interfaces between different surfaces and crystal orientations. Note that Freitas expects to design at least some working components as part of his $5 million proposal.
Subquestion What would be the cost and development time of a CAD/simulation/tracking system that could support the design of machines and systems from low-level components?
Preliminary answer Unknown. Probably comparable to high-end software design tools, or semiconductor design tools circa 1990. It wouldn't have to handle a lot of different parts or physics, at least in early versions where performance can be sacrificed to reduce undesired interactions between parts.
Subquestion What would be the cost of developing a design for an integrated, hierarchical manufacturing system to build large products?
Preliminary answer An architecture for such a design has been worked out. The molecular fabrication in that design is based on a simple robotic-chemistry design by Ralph Merkle. Many fabricators make parts in parallel, and the parts are then combined via convergent assembly. Merkle's design requires perhaps 100 moving parts and half a billion atoms (most of which don't have to be individually specified). Convergent assembly appears to require only simple robotics at several scales. Assembly and fabrication appear to require only simple control software. Much of the engineering, even at nanometer scales, will be more or less familiar to mechanical engineers. Overall engineering difficulty might be comparable to an aerospace project.
Subquestion How many of these steps could be accomplished concurrently in a crash program?
Preliminary answer All of these steps could be started concurrently, with successive refinement. This may not happen due to caution on the part of the funders. However, a funding organization that was willing to fund a crash program could probably do all these steps in parallel.
Subquestion How precisely can costs and schedules be estimated?
Preliminary answer Due to lack of study, very little information is available. For the sub-projects that we can estimate, the cost is consistently under $1 billion, and several appear to cost just a few million. Also, all of them (with the exception of software engineering, which should not be a major fraction of the total cost) appear to be getting easier rapidly. We can't rule out the possibility that the whole thing might cost less than $1 billion; in fact, that appears likely to us, though we don't say it loudly because it sounds too implausible. A project starting five or ten years from now very likely would find the cost greatly reduced. (However, other studies indicate that this is not a sufficient reason to delay; it's simply evidence that if we do delay, a rapidly increasing set of organizations will be able to do it.)
  About schedules, again, very little information is available. The argument parallels the cost discussion. The project can be divided cleanly into sub-projects. In the areas where we can make estimates for the sub-projects, the estimates are surprisingly short. We don't see any sub-project that needs to take more than five years. Doing all sub-projects in parallel would require excellent management, visionary funding, and good communication to ensure smooth integration. But this appears feasible, and implies that the whole thing might be done in five years with sufficient effort and skill. (But government bureaucracy is not well suited to do this.)
Conclusion At a guess, the difficulty and schedule of developing a tabletop kg-scale manufacturing system producing kg-scale nano-featured products may be comparable to the Apollo Program. Or it may be quite a bit easier; we can't know without more engineering investigation. At this point, we can't rule out the possibility that it could be done in five years for less than $1 billion. Note also that work on this may have already started somewhere, and may be quite close to completion.
Other studies 1. Is mechanically guided chemistry a viable basis for a manufacturing technology?
2. To what extent is molecular manufacturing counterintuitive and underappreciated in a way that causes underestimation of its importance?
What is the performance and potential of diamondoid machine-phase chemical manufacturing and products?
4. What is the performance and potential of biological programmable manufacturing and products?
5. What is the performance and potential of nucleic acid manufacturing and products?
6. What other chemistries and options should be studied?
What applicable sensing, manipulation, and fabrication tools exist?
9. What will be required to develop biological programmable manufacturing and products?
10. What will be required to develop nucleic acid manufacturing and products?
11. How rapidly will the cost of development decrease?
12. How could an effective development program be structured?
What is the probable capability of the manufacturing system?
14. How capable will the products be?
15. What will the products cost?
16. How rapidly could products be designed?
Which of today's products will the system make more accessible or cheaper?
18. What new products will the system make accessible?
19. What impact will the system have on production and distribution?
20. What effect will molecular manufacturing have on military and government capability and planning, considering the implications of arms races and unbalanced development?
21. What effect will this have on macro- and microeconomics?
22. How can proliferation and use of nanofactories and their products be limited?
23. What effect will this have on policing?
24. What beneficial or desirable effects could this have?
25. What effect could this have on civil rights and liberties?
26. What are the disaster/disruption scenarios?
27. What effect could this have on geopolitics?
28. What policies toward development of molecular manufacturing does all this suggest?
29. What policies toward administration of molecular manufacturing does all this suggest?
30. How can appropriate policy be made and implemented?
Studies should begin immediately. The situation is extremely urgent. The stakes are unprecedented, and the world is unprepared. The basic findings of these studies should be verified as rapidly as possible (months, not years). Policy preparation and planning for implementation, likely including a crash development program, should begin immediately.

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