Tag Archives: manufacturing

How will the earliest nanofactories emerge?

dimensionsJ Storrs Hall of the Foresight institute comments on what the earliest nanofactories will be like, and Michael Anissimov responds:

If nanofactories work at all, they will be very powerful. A nanofactory would be a very complicated, “huge” thing. The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology compares the complexity of a molecular assembler to that of a Space Shuttle. I think the analogy would be apt for a nanofactory as well. We are talking about a miniature factory with more moving parts and individual computers than a typical 100 million-dollar modern factory today. Difficulties with the basic technology will manifest themselves in the pre-nanofactory stage, working with individual assemblers or small ensembles of assemblers. If you’ve made it all the way to nanofactory-level MNT, you’ve already jumped the primary technological hurdles.

A point of disagreement between Anissimov and Hall is the precise definiton of “nanofactory.” Is it simply a general term for a device that can create many other things including a copy of itself, or it is a specific desktop-scale universal assembler?

Assuming the latter definition, Anissimov argues that widespread adoption of desktop nanofactories will happen much more rapidly than that of personal computers because:

There are simply too many moving parts for micromanagement to be possible — either the “code-level” operations are automated or they haven’t been established yet.

Either they work or they don’t. The smallest replicating unit is equivalent to the transistor in a personal computer – to the user it is expected to behave as a black box that performs a specific function – and if it fails to there is not much the user can do about it (if a transistor fails on a microchip can it even be repaired?).

The appropriate analogy is therefore between computers and nanofactories is between the existence of nanofactories and the existence of microchips. Microchips have found their way all over the place…

If Anissimov is right then it raises the interesting possibility that mature, desktop-scale nanofabrication may achieve widespread consumer adoption over a startlingly short period, given the ability of the machine to make copies of itself and the fact if it fulfils its basic function then it can become incredibly useful to many people very quickly.

[via Next Big Future][image from jurvetson on flickr]

Solar power achieves $1-per-Watt milestone

solar panelsDepending on who you ask, solar power is somewhere between the ultimate clean solution to our energy addiction or a blind alley of inefficiency and cost that distracts us from more reasonable solutions. Recent developments have added a little weight to the former argument, with a solar panel manufacturer claiming a $1-per-Watt grid parity on manufacturing costs:

Using cadmium telluride (CdTe) technology in its thin-film photovoltaic cells, First Solar claims to have the lowest manufacturing cost per watt in the industry with the ability to make solar cells at 98 cents per watt, one third of the price of comparable standard silicon panels. The efficiency is in part due to a low cycle time – 2.5 hours from sheet of glass to solar module – about a tenth of the time it takes for silicon equivalents.

Cost is only part of the battle, of course, but dropping prices can’t harm solar’s status as a contender in the renewables marketplace. [image by laurenatclemson]

However, somebody somewhere is probably going to find some other reason for not deploying it – look at the NIMBYism that has plagued windfarms.

A brief history of the Turtlcam

The latest instalment of Sven Johnson’s Future Imperfect is another part of the Superstruct project.

Future Imperfect - Sven Johnson

A misplaced shipment of military fire control chips, a counterfeit toy company, an opportunist dock worker and a plastic-moulding factory fallen on hard times… a strange set of ingredients, sure, but they combined to make the black-market toy sensation of the moment. Continue reading A brief history of the Turtlcam

Open-source self-replicating machine, er, self-replicates

Self-replicating machines, as a concept, have been around since mathematician John von Neumann thought them up. But there has never been a working non-organic machine that has been able to construct a fully-functional working clone of itself … until now. [story via pretty much everywhere; image from the RepRap homepage]

RepRap achieved self-replication at 14:00 hours UTC on 29 May 2008 at Bath University in the UK.”

RepRap - self-replicating machine

I’ve linked to the RepRap Project before when I first started blogging here at Futurismic, and so I’m immensely pleased to see they’ve reached this major milestone. And the head-twistingly awesome bit about it is that, as RepRap is 100% open-source, you can just download a parts list and make your own, then set it to make copies of itself to give to your friends.

The machine that [self-replicated] – RepRap Version 1.0 “Darwin” – can be built now – see the Make RepRap Darwin link, and for ways to get the bits and pieces you need, see the Obtaining Parts link.”

OK, so it looks clunky, and it lacks the conceptual elegance of Drexler’s engines of creation, but think of it as a proof of concept. Imagine that RepRap could build a functional replica of itself at half the size, and that then the replica could replicate to half the size again, and so on. Unless you’re worried about the largely improbable “grey goo” scenario, it’s possible that we’ll look back on RepRap as the dawn of a new age for the means of production …

… or the root cause of global unemployment, maybe. 😉