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Nanofactory Design Study Prompts Concern for Preparedness

A detailed design study for a personal-size nanofactory has been published by Chris Phoenix, Director of Research for CRN. The proposed nanofactory could rapidly manufacture a wide array of advanced products, including more nanofactories, while using minimal resources. ‘Design of a Primitive Nanofactory’ appeared in the peer-reviewed Journal of Evolution and Technology. The 84-page technical paper is the most comprehensive examination of nanofactory architecture yet produced.

“We’ve shown that large-scale molecular manufacturing could be easier and faster to develop than many people think, so the return on investment could be much higher,” said Phoenix. “One or more nations may soon find it worthwhile to begin developing this technology.” This leads to the concern that the capability might arrive before adequate means for controlling it are in place. Issues of environmental safety, military conflict, and economic disruption must be addressed well ahead of time.

“This new information should motivate policy makers to begin discussion of potential consequences, both positive and negative,” said CRN Executive Director Mike Treder. “We urge international leaders to open a dialogue on preparing for the sweeping economic and societal consequences that molecular nanotechnology may usher in.”

A nanofactory will make use of the principles of molecular manufacturing, building products from the bottom up, molecule by molecule. Tiny machines, called fabricators, would manipulate atoms and molecules to make small parts and then join them together. A single fabricator cannot build large items, so a nanofactory must include numerous fabricators and perform multiple steps to assemble products. Others have considered one or more of these steps, but this paper represents the first time anyone has described a complete factory system in detail.

Much work still remains, particularly in the area of designing and building a fabricator. But one of the key findings of this new study is that the span of time from the first working fabricator to the first nanofactory might be far shorter than previously anticipated. “And after that, each tabletop factory could make ten thousand more pretty quickly,” said Treder. “The factories can't run amok, but the people using them might.”

“Every aspect of nanofactory design other than the fabricator mechanism is well within the capability of today's engineering practice,” said Phoenix. “Building a fabricator entails chemical design, which will require significant research and development. But there is no known reason why a basic fabricator can't be built--and then a nanofactory soon after.”


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