Building robots building robot buildings…

Paul Raven @ 17-01-2011

Behold the potential future of building; construction workers, you may want to start training for your second career NOW.

Oh, so you’re not impressed by that? OK, so imagine large swarms of smaller versions of those quadrotor critters assembling constructions which themselves are autonomous, modular, quasi-sentient and self-repairing

From BotJunkie, via George Dvorsky; cheers, George. 🙂


Self-assembling silicon circuits

Paul Raven @ 17-03-2010

Photolithography is running up against its limitations, as logic circuits become so small that the wavelength of light itself is too large to mask the patterns accurately. MIT boffins reckon they have a solution, though: self-assembling semiconductor circuits [via NextBigFuture].

Berggren and Ross’ approach is to use electron-beam lithography sparingly, to create patterns of tiny posts on a silicon chip. They then deposit specially designed polymers — molecules in which smaller, repeating molecular units are linked into long chains — on the chip. The polymers spontaneously hitch up to the posts and arrange themselves into useful patterns.

The trick is that the polymers are “copolymers,” meaning they’re made of two different types of polymer. Berggren compares a copolymer molecule to the characters played by Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin in the movie Midnight Run, a bounty hunter and a white-collar criminal who are handcuffed together but can’t stand each other. Ross prefers a homelier analogy: “You can think of it like a piece of spaghetti joined to a piece of tagliatelle,” she says. “These two chains don’t like to mix. So given the choice, all the spaghetti ends would go here, and all the tagliatelle ends would go there, but they can’t, because they’re joined together.” In their attempts to segregate themselves, the different types of polymer chain arrange themselves into predictable patterns.

Clever stuff, though still very much in the developmental stages. Maybe another new lease of life for Moore’s Law?


New nanoparticle self-assembly routes “more like nature”

Paul Raven @ 27-10-2009

Here’s the latest on new techniques in nanoparticle self-assembly as discovered by researchers from the US Department of Energy:

“We’ve demonstrated a simple yet versatile approach to precisely controlling the spatial distribution of readily available nanoparticles over multiple length scales, ranging from the nano to the macro,” says Ting Xu, a polymer scientist who led this project and who holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and the University of California, Berkeley’s Departments of Materials Sciences and Engineering, and Chemistry. “Our technique can be used on a wide variety of nanoparticle and should open new routes to the fabrication of nanoparticle-based devices including highly efficient systems for the generation and storage of solar energy.”

Well, that’s the sales pitch out of the way. The thing that caught my eye about this particular piece, though, was this paragraph:

“Bring together the right basic components — nanoparticles, polymers and small molecules — stimulate the mix with a combination of heat, light or some other factors, and these components will assemble into sophisticated structures or patterns,” says Xu. “It is not dissimilar from how nature does it.

Now, think back to that video of DNA and RNA synthesising proteins like tiny little machinesas we get closer and closer to mastering matter at an atomic level, will the line between “life” and “machines” become increasingly meaningless?