This presentation describes the engineering problems associated with the use of nanotech-scale modules to form large-scale structural members.
The design of the individual modules includes provision for each module to know the positions of any module in contact. This will allow the overall structural member to be rebuilt automatically if part of it is damaged or torn away, allowing repair to be very easy and quick. Given that the resulting structures are strong enough, the application for such things as self-sharpening knife blades and tool bits is obvious.
By altering the way in which individual modules are linked together, one can create structures that range in rigidity from extremely so to very flexible. Since these structures are active in nature, they will have abilities not possessed by the equivalent conventional materials; for example, very thin yet rigid walls with active sound cancelling capabilities to allow for extremely efficient soundproofing. Two layers separated by evenly spaced supports with a vacuum between them would provide extremely effective heat and cold insulation.
By changing the characteristics of the links after the structure has been formed, and, more importantly, by changing the pattern of the links, it would be possible and practical to create mutable tools. For example, programming the modules one way creates a hammer, another way creates a screwdriver, yet another a saw. The technique can also be used, in an advanced form, to create customized tools on the fly, for example, a wrench that can reach through a tangle of wires and pipes, form itself around a nut and then act as a motorized socket wrench that fits the nut exactly and won't slip.
This presentation addresses the practical engineering problems associated with such materials, and describes a design that is capable of implementing the above features. We also suggest several manufacturing scenarios.