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Nano-Pioneer Offers a "Roadmap"

Eric Drexler on stageEric Drexler, the father of nanotechnology (although he might not call himself that) and a founder of the Foresight Institute, has just taken the stage to give "A Roadmap to Productive Nanosystems." (His abstract is here, and his homepage is here.)

Drexler is a quiet and measured man, who seems to think carefully through each sentence he utters before it leaves his mouth. The nanotech "roadmap" he's presenting may sound mundane, but it's a big deal: nobody before has clearly laid out the steps that could get us from where we are today (i.e., new molecules and materials) to a world where advanced nanotechnology is a reality (i.e., molecular manufacturing).

How important is advanced nanotechnology? "The promise of this is larger than the promise of the Apollo program, larger than the promise of controlled fusion," Drexler says.

UPDATE: Drexler's presentation is going to end with an animation (which I've agreed not to post in full, since it's still unfinished) illustrating the roadmap, taking us from where we are today in nano-research, to the day when we can produce objects big enough to see and use in everyday life.

UPDATE: In the end, the emphasis of Drexler's presentation wasn't on the roadmap (which he had to rush through), but rather on the animation -- which was a sort of sneak peek at what Drexler's vision for a desktop nanofactory might look like, inside and out. Here are a few shots from the video, in order from the smallest parts (the molecules themselves being placed precisely), to larger components, ultimately to a desktop nanofactory:






And finally, the desktop nanofactory. You'll notice the plug on the right: it would use a normal electrical outlet for power. Or so the thinking goes. (Click to enlarge.)

UPDATE: In answering the audience questions, Drexler mentions a "developing competence" in India and China in the fields needed for his vision of nanotechnology. The Orient, he says, is paying more attention to this stuff than the Occident.

October 22, 2004 in Research | Permalink


I can't believe you met Drexler.

Man. I wish I had tickets.

Posted by: Cnatch | Oct 22, 2004 6:48:46 PM

I can tell what the first two pictures are anyway. In the first picture, the circles are rollers and they have conveyor belts wrapped around them. A belt encircles the top two rollers and another wraps around the lower roller from below. The belts consist of small square pallets which hold pyramidal-shaped molecular structures. Where the two belts meet, their payloads come together and some molecules get transferred from one to the other. This executes a step in the assembly process.

The second picture is a sorting rotor, with a gas at the left of several different types of molecules. Only one, which appears to be Acetylene, C2H2, fits into the well in the rotor and gets carried over to the right side, where the off-center cam pushes a rod that ejects the molecule. On the right is pure C2H2 gas which then can be attached to pallets and carried off to begin the assembly process.

I can't make out exactly what is happening in the other pix. I do like the way the nanofactory has a Mr. Fusion style lid on it.

Posted by: Hal | Oct 22, 2004 10:56:58 PM

I do a lot of statistical mechanics and I'm very wary of explaining the feasibility of something via animations like these. Has Drexler (or anyone) performed any sort of computational simulations of the devices he proposes? They could take the smallest part, less than 100 000 atoms, and perform a molecular dynamics simulation.

I won't say it's impossible, but there's a quite a few respected chemists who disagree with Drexler's ideas. I'd want some hard proof before Drexler starts to declare his ideas feasible.

Posted by: Howard | Oct 23, 2004 1:43:35 AM

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