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Feynman’s Path to Nanotech (part 10)

Just Do It

It’s the 20th anniversary of the first Foresight Conference this year. Over the intervening two decades, one of the most common questions of Foresight members and supporters has been, “What can I do to help with the development of nanotech?”  Foresight has had many useful programs, and encouraged development in many ways (notably with the Feynman Prizes, in the spirit of the prizes Feynman himself offered for developments leading along his pathway).  But we have never taken a hand in the direct development of nanotech per se.

I feel to some extent that this may have contributed to the lack of focus the field of nanotech has had in its course of development. But that can change. The Feynman Path initiative is a specific, concrete proposal — but more, it’s one that can be done in an open-source way, for at least the first, roadmap, phase. Anyone can contribute design ideas.

Moreover, anyone can begin to experiment with a macro KSRM model. Getting past that giggle factor and having a real, physical machine that people can watch as it copies itself could cause a sea change in attitudes and the orientation of research.

There’s absolutely no need to have just one model of a KSRM. I’ll be trying to build one myself, and blogging about the details, but this should be a community of free and open ideas. Many actual machines, variants of the original design, can be built, as the RepRap community shows.

There’s a fundamental similarity between a Feynman Path machine (FPm) and a RepRap, obviously, in their orientation to self-replication.  This includes the fact that both schemes require a human to be actively involved in the replication process, in the FPm by teleoperation.  But there are some fundamental differences:

  • Attitude to cost: a RepRap is intended to be a means to cheap manufacturing, so it’s oriented to using the least expensive materials available.  An FPm has much less concern about that: each successive machine in the series uses less than 2% the material of the previous one. It would be perfectly reasonable to design an FPm that had to carve all its parts out of solid diamond, once past the millimeter scale, for example. The goal is to understand principles, not supplant the economy (at least until the nanoscale is reached).
  • Attitude to closure:  RepRap assumes human assembly labor, but an FPm has to provide its own manipulating capabilities. RepRap allows exogenous parts that are widely available and inexpensive; an FPm allows parts that are available at all scales.
  • Assembly time vs accuracy: As a consumer-goods production machine, RepRap has at least some concern for how long it takes to do its job.  An FPm has much less concern about time, but much more about accuracy, since it has to improve its product’s tolerance over its own by a substantial factor.

Given that, however, there’s no reason that there shouldn’t be a free flow of ideas between the projects.  RepRap took a long time getting off the ground, and so may the Feynman Path project — but if you want to help, in any capacity or form whatsoever, let me know!

4 Responses to “Feynman’s Path to Nanotech (part 10)”

  1. Michael Kuntzman Says:

    I’d gladly help you build the thing, if I was in the US. Sadly, I don’t have enough equipment, knowhow and time to go at it alone.. I don’t have a degree in mechanical engineering, so I’m missing a lot of the necessary knowledge to figure out the details. But I can still come up with ideas, as you can see from my comments to the previous posts.

    Here’s a suggestion, based on your own, and the comments to part 9 – how about an official open-source hardware project, perhaps even sponsored by foresight?
    There is some info here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-source_robotics
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_source_hardware

  2. Vik Olliver Says:

    There is no reason that the use of ready-made parts need be ignored in bootstrapping the KSRM model. Handy monoclinic crystals might make a useful rod for instance, and the growth of many crystals can be controlled with physical conditions or doping. In the initial stages you need to go for a “whatever works” model, then refine it based on practical experience. RepRap is only just entering the V2.0 stage 14 months or so after initial replication.

    There is a lot of overlap in the RepRap/nanotech world. It won’t be too long before RepRaps are capable of building STMs for top-down work and facilitating bottom-up assembly techniques. What’s more it will put these tools in the hands of a great many creative people, raising expectations and creating object library sites like Thingiverse. As part of the RepRap core team, I very much encourage these cross-overs and look forward to future collaboration.

    Vik :v)

  3. Abbas Karami Says:

    Josh Hall, it’s great to be hearing from you again! I’ve thought about waldoes a lot recently; especially how to build one myself. You mention the RepRap a lot, and I think it’s a very nice idea, but currently it can only make plastic. Plastic might be stiff at the macroscale, but at the microscale it is as hard as a spoonful of spaghetti and you couldn’t make anything out of it. I’d delay my optimism until RepRap can make metal or some kind of stiff crystal, plus some kind of electrical conductor, allowing it to manufacture basic electrical components (wires, resistors, capacitors, …). Then it would actually become plausible to use a RepRap to make much smaller RepRaps. It seems as though the RepRap team is already planning on doing this.

    One idea I thought of is to build stuff out of wires. We already have very thin wires – you can buy kilometers of hair-thin insulated copper wire for a few dollars. You can knit the wires together to make flat surfaces. You can make electrostatic motors. It is possible to envision a ‘machine shop’ using parts made out of braided and knitted wire to build smaller stuff out of wire. A big problem, however, is that you need some way to cut the wires, and you can’t make wire cutters out of wire. A solution is to use focused lasers – you can use them at any generation of the process down to the sub-micrometer scale, and beyond that x-rays could be used. It would probably never work, I just thought I’d throw it out there.

  4. Accelerating Future » J. Storrs Hall’s Feynman Path Proposal to MNT Says:

    [...] technologies for fabricating key components or steps and considerations for the Feynman Path. 10. The Feynman Path initiative is a specific, concrete proposal [...]

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