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January 2, 2007 6:53 AM   Subscribe

Productive Nanosystems (youtube) is an animation visualizing how a nano-factory manufacturing devices with atomic precision might work. Artist's page on Nanotechnology Now here. Production model here (though it looks much bigger than what the video hints at).
posted by Burhanistan (14 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
well, they don't explain what all of those other parts are made of, or how they're assembled. I think machines will look less like 'machines' and more like proteans.
posted by delmoi at 7:16 AM on January 2, 2007


I think machines will look less like 'machines' and more like proteans.
posted by delmoi


Like proteans? For a quick moment I had some weird false epiphany trying to compute that before I quickly realized the misspelling. Yes, the video raises more questions than answers, but I think it's meant more to hint at possibilities of manufacturing for those who don't really ponder nanotechnology very. More social engineering than detailed diagramming.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:29 AM on January 2, 2007


(ponder very nanotechnology very much)
posted by Burhanistan at 7:31 AM on January 2, 2007


Wonder how many RIAA lawsuits this would result in if it was actually achieved...
posted by Auz at 8:03 AM on January 2, 2007


That first video link is pretty much pie-in-the-sky fantasy.

One of the huge problems with nanoscale manufacturing is getting rid of the waste heat. They mention 'warm air' as a byproduct, but 'loads of very hot air' is much more likely.

From what I understand, nanoscale assemblers are likely to have a room-sized production facility that can make nearly anything... and a gigantic, factory-sized building to cool it down. Desktop assemblers are certainly possible, but they will either be very, very slow or will require tons of cooling eqipment. The unit itself might be the size of a microwave oven, but the cooling could take most of the room. Work doesn't happen for free. If you're doing the work of a large factory on your desktop, even if your machine is much more efficient, you're still going to generate a substantial fraction of the original's heat in a much smaller space. Getting rid of that heat is going to be a huge issue.

You are also going to have absolutely immense power bills.

As an example, think of how much heat microprocessors shed. Cooling is one of the biggest limitations of modern CPUs, and they're not even doing physical work, really. All they're doing is pushing electrons around, and they'll slag themselves in seconds without proper cooling.

Even when each individual action generates infinitesimal heat..... a billion repetitions here, a billion repetitions there, and pretty quick your solid titanium casing is a puddle burning its way through the floor. :)
posted by Malor at 8:39 AM on January 2, 2007


From what I understand, nanoscale assemblers are likely to have a room-sized production facility that can make nearly anything... and a gigantic, factory-sized building to cool it down.

Can't think why, but this projection reminds me of, IIRC, a prediction by Vannevar Bush, circa 1945-50, that there were intrinsic limits to computing power -- a computer capable of calculating a million operations per second was theoretically feasible, but practically impossible because it would require the equivalent water throughput of Niagara Falls to keep it cool.

He was, of course, completely correct ... if you used valve technology (US: tubes) to make a 1MIP supercomputer.

We're at least as far away from a desktop fabricator as Bush was from a 1MIP computer when he made that prediction; I can predict, fairly confidently, that if a desktop fabricator is ever built, some currently-unforseen solution to the cooling problem will be adopted. Like, oh, using the heat produced by the process to help power it (as in any endothermic organism, for example, us).
posted by cstross at 9:01 AM on January 2, 2007


Like, oh, using the heat produced by the process to help power it (as in any endothermic organism, for example, us).

We're not powered by heat. The reason we have a constant temperature is that the chemical reactions in our cells evolved to work best at a certain temperature range. Also the word is Homeostatic not "endothermic"
posted by delmoi at 10:17 AM on January 2, 2007


Delmoi: Your typical enzyme-mediated reaction rate doubles per ten degree celsius temperature increase (up until the hydrogen bonds and disulphide bridges that maintain the tertiary and quaternary conformation of the active site begin to break down, at which point they denature quite thoroughly). Note also that glycolysis, the Krebs cycle and electron transfer chain are all enzyme-mediated. Runs too fast? It produces too much heat, and things break. Runs too slowly? That's when we get problems.

(I'm using endothermic in the opposite sense to poikilothermic, not in a thermodynamic sense. We -- and other mammals -- regulate our temperature in order to maintain an optimal thermal regime for our cells.)
posted by cstross at 11:02 AM on January 2, 2007


All I know is that an Asian chick in a lab coat gives anything credibility.
posted by sourwookie at 11:53 AM on January 2, 2007


Nanoscale stuff using modern "big factory" mechanics makes very, very little sense. This stuff, if it ever comes to fruition, is going to have to look a lot more like the CG "inside a cell" video posted a couple months ago. Fluid, organic, and insanely clever. Making little physical assembly lines with cogs and whatnot feels awfully misguided - like all of those old-school "flying" machines designed based on misunderstandings about or outright ignorance of the laws of fluid dynamics.
posted by odinsdream at 12:46 PM on January 2, 2007


Odinsdream: maybe people are missing the point on the video being a sort of fanatasy "proof of concept" rather than a spot on diagram of the form nanogeneration machines will take. Something to pump the meme.

Sourwookie: it's the idealized future. She's a balanced mix of Asian, African, European, and indigenous New World stock.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:58 PM on January 2, 2007


Burhanistan; of course I understand that the video is akin to an "artist's rendering," but I'm speaking more to the obvious fact that preconceived notions of manufacturing aren't going to be useful at all in designing nano-factories. When assembling things on this scale, stuff that macro-factories take for granted, like gravity being pretty strong compared to nuclear forces, just isn't going to hold.
posted by odinsdream at 2:05 PM on January 2, 2007


I want my home nano-forge, and my p2p product design downloader now.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:36 PM on January 2, 2007


Neither gravity nor the strong force are dominant on the scale shown. I'm not sure I agree with the critique that nanotechnology is going to be fluid and organic. That's how nature designs things. People tend to design things that are rather more comprehensible to our brains, and some sort of vast nano factory composed of many similar units which can be programmed to assemble a variety of designs strikes me as something a bit closer to what we might eventually see.
posted by cytherea at 11:01 PM on January 2, 2007


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