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Exponential Growth In Small Machines — Don’t Fear, They’re Here To Protect You

2013/04/10 in George Skidmore, nanotechnology, Robots, sensors, Singularity, small machines, Transhuman

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Small machines are ubiquitous. They’ve proliferated exponentially for forty years and are now all around us. Since new technology can be scary, especially small machine technologies that human eyes can’t see, I’m writing to tell their story. They’ve been here protecting us, we use them for fun and games; and we expect them to have a continued bright future. From their beginning as air bag collisions sensors for protecting, to smartphone motion games they’re moving into health and activity monitors. They’ve recently become a $10B market across their myriad uses.

The first small machine most of us knew was here to protect us from a specific kind of accident. This machine is a collision sensor, which knew in a split second to activate your automobile air bag and cushion the impact of your collision with the inside of the car. But small machines have proliferated since then. They are still in your automobile, doing the collision sensing for air bag deployment and several other things. But they are now capable of more subtle motion sensing. So we should be clear about what they are and what they do. Because there are going to be more of them, perhaps a great many more of them coming onto the scene. They are repeating their history with more ways to protect us, and are getting more fun. But let’s learn what they are first.

Alongside the development of silicon computer chips (integrated circuits to many of us) there was a companion revolution. It happened right alongside, but with much less fanfare. Silicon isn’t just a wonder material for building electronic circuits, it’s a pretty good mechanical material too. While most people are familiar with Moore’s Law and its consequences for more and better digital computing: personal computers, cell phones, tablets. You should become familiar with the companion revolution in the mechanical uses of silicon. There isn’t a separate law for micro machine, there is just a borrowing of Moore’s Law and its application to micro machine sensors and actuators.

'Courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories, SUMMiT(TM) Technologies,'

Courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories, SUMMiT(TM) Technologies,

Let us define micro machine as a small machine built using integrated circuit technology. This is our working definition where small indicates that is has features too small for the unaided human eye to see. This definition best encompasses what micro machines are and why they’re important. Researchers in the field use the acronym MEMS, for micro-electro-mechanical systems. This is perfectly adequate for what micro machines are. But it misses why they are proliferating. They are not proliferating because they are small, they are proliferating because they can borrow an existing manufacturing infrastructure. They can catch a ride on the train that is Moore’s law for proliferating digital computing. They can borrow the materials, manufacturing tools, knowledge, people, and markets to expand the utility of silicon chips. The International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors agrees with their importance and now includes them under the banner of “More than Moore”. Which fits our definition well – build something more than computers in a silicon chip and extend this manufacturing infrastructure to be more than Moore’s law. Small machines do this by borrowing all the attributes of silicon chip making and applying them to the mechanical world.

And proliferation of this technology has been big, let’s constrain our discussion to motion sensing and see how it has grown exponentially. The original micro machine motion sensor, technically known as an accelerometer, was introduced for air-bag deployment in 1991. Today motion sensing has progressed to being three-axes of acceleration, and three axis of rotation (technically called gyroscopes). If you own a modern smart phone, you are aware that tilting or shaking it causes it to respond. It is sensing all that motion using small machines. The first mass-consumer use of motion sensing came twelve years later in 2006, and was entirely for fun and games, in the Wii remote controller from Nintendo. Video bowling, tennis, and others provided many hours of entertainment and activity in homes. The trend continued when motion sensors were introduced by Apple into the iPhone, combined with smartphones and tablets, this has brought motion games to near a billion people. And just recently bringing MEMS annual revenue at STMicroelectronics to over $1B.

But what comes next? Following its own history, there’s more product introductions for fun and games. Backyard and junior athletes should check out Infomotion who is bringing athletic motion sensing into the real world. They are embedding a basketball with motion sensing. It records the motion of the ball to help an aspiring athlete objectively make the perfect shot every time. Basketballs are just the start: they are promising soccer, volleyball, hockey, and football next. If you’re more interested in your own body motion during sports, you can wear an instrumented suit from XSENS and be training like an Olympic athlete.

But how are motion sensors proliferating to protecting us. At the intersection of sports and protection is Ridell, who is now selling football helmets instrumented with motion sensors to monitor, record, and lessen the deleterious effects of repeated collisions to the head. This will protect athletes of all ages.

I am now protecting my health with motion sensors. I’m wearing one of many available motion sensors which count steps and climbed stairs during my regular work day at the office, and during my work out runs. These are available from a number of companies in a number of form factors: on a belt clip or in the pocket from Fitbit and Withings, armbands from BodyBugg, and even Google has jumped in with a pair of shoes. Please note these are activity sensors for now. Real healthcare will take more time, including FDA approval. But micro machines have more to offer: pressure, chemical, gas , radiation, and heat sensors; if its worth sensing, someone is thinking about how to sense it with a small machine. And if it can be built small, using an integrated circuit process, it can be made cheaply and scaled to quantities of millions. It’s a compelling way to make small machines, which is why you’re about to have many more of them, whether you see them coming or not.

George Skidmore, Ph. D., a physicist working in micro machines and nanotechnology, is Principal Scientist at DRS Technologies.  He is also a Nanotechnology Track Faculty at Singularity University.

[images: Courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories, SUMMiT(TM) Technologies,]

Christine Peterson on Singularity 1 on 1: Join Us to Push the Future in a Positive Direction

2013/02/13 in Christine Peterson, life extension, longevity, nanotechnology, Podcasts, Transhuman

Christine PetersonChristine Peterson is not only the co-founder and past president of the Foresight Institute for Nanotechnology but also the person credited with coining the term open source software. More recently her interests have evolved to include longevity and life extension technologies and she is currently the CEO of Health Activator.

During my Singularity 1 on 1 interview with Christine Peterson we discuss a variety of topics such as: how she got interested in nanotechnology and the definition thereof; how, together with Eric Drexler, she started the Foresight Institute for Nanotechnology; her interest in life extension; Dr. Drexler’s seminal book Engines of Creation; cryonics and chemical brain preservation23andMe and other high- and low-tech tips for improved longevity; whether we should fear nanotechnology or not; the 3 most exciting promises of nanotech; women in technology; coining the term “open source” and using Apple computers; the technological singularity and her take on it…

(As always you can listen to or download the audio file above, or scroll down and watch the video interview in full.  If you want to help me produce more episodes please make a donation)

Click here to view the embedded video.


Who is Christine Peterson?

Christine Peterson writes, lectures, and briefs the media on coming powerful technologies, especially longevity and nanotechnology. She is CEO of HealthActivator, which provides online videoconferences on science-based health, brain fitness, and longevity.

She is Co-Founder and Past President of Foresight Institute, the leading nanotech public interest group. Foresight educates the public, technical community, and policymakers on nanotechnology and its long-term effects.

She serves on the Advisory Board of the International Council on Nanotechnology, the Editorial Advisory Board of NASA’s Nanotech Briefs, and the Advisory Board of Singularity Institute, and served on California’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Nanotechnology.

She has often directed Foresight Conferences on Molecular Nanotechnology, organized Foresight Institute Feynman Prizes, and chaired Foresight Vision Weekends.

She lectures on nanotechnology to a wide variety of audiences, focusing on making this complex field understandable, and on clarifying the difference between near-term commercial advances and the “Next Industrial Revolution” arriving in the next few decades.

Her work is motivated by a desire to help humanity and Earth’s environment avoid harm and instead benefit from expected dramatic advances in technology. This goal of spreading benefits led to an interest in new varieties of intellectual property including open source software, a term she is credited with originating.

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Microscopic 3D printing

2013/02/12 in Accelerating Change, nanotechnology, Transhuman

Nanoscribe GmbH, a spin-off of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), has developed the world’s fastest 3D printer of micro- and nanostructures, the German company claims.

With this printer, three-dimensional objects, often smaller than the diameter of a human hair, can be manufactured with minimum time consumption and maximum resolution. The printer is based on a novel laser lithography method.

Nanoscribe systems are used to print polymer waveguides reaching data transfer rates of more than 5 terabits per second.

Using the new laser lithography method, printing speed is increased by factor of about 100. This increase in speed results from the use of a  special  “galvo” mirror system, a technology that is also applied in laser show devices or scanning units of CD and DVD drives.

Reflecting a laser beam off the rotating galvo mirrors facilitates rapid and precise laser focus positioning. “We are revolutionizing 3D printing on the micrometer scale. Precision and speed are achieved by the industrially established galvo technology,” says Martin Hermatschweiler, the managing director of Nanoscribe GmbH.

via Microscopic 3D printing | KurzweilAI.

Proof of concept molecular machine that slowly mimics the work of a ribosome to assemble peptides

2013/01/11 in chemistry, guided self assembly, molecular nanotechnology, nanoscale, nanotechnology, proteins, science, Transhuman

The field of molecular machines has taken a new bio-inspired turn to assemble another molecule, in this case linking up individual amino acids into a peptide. While this molecular peptide synthesiser isn’t going to rival a ribosome for speed any time soon, it does suggest a way to make multicomponent polymers.

Researchers mimic the ribosome, a cellular machine that can build proteins. ‘The ribosome uses a track where a machine moves along it processively,’ Leigh says. So when the group started thinking about how to build a synthetic version they naturally thought of the rotaxane architecture of a ring on a track. However, Leigh is keen to stress this is not intended as an artificial alternative for the ribosome, especially as his machine is much slower than its biological counterpart – it took 36 hours to synthesise a three amino acid peptide. Instead, Leigh says the work is a proof-of-concept for a molecular machine.

Lead researcher Leigh has a number of plans for the device, including increasing the number of amino acids that can be strung together. As the peptide sequence grows, says Leigh, ‘it will be very interesting to, at the single molecule level, see how these things fold as they are made’. There are also different chemistries and polymers to try, and Leigh also says he’d like to investigate keeping the information on the track so that it can be read again, just as RNA can be read more than once by a ribosome.

Journal Science- Sequence-Specific Peptide Synthesis by an Artificial Small-Molecule Machine

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New Nanotube fibers have unmatched combination of strength, conductivity, flexibility

2013/01/10 in carbon nanotubes, commercialization, future, nanotechnology, science, Transhuman

Rice University’s latest nanotechnology breakthrough was more than 10 years in the making, but it still came with a shock. Scientists from Rice, the Dutch firm Teijin Aramid, the U.S. Air Force and Israel’s Technion Institute this week unveiled a new carbon nanotube (CNT) fiber that looks and acts like textile thread and conducts electricity and heat like a metal wire. In this week’s issue of Science, the researchers describe an industrially scalable process for making the threadlike fibers, which outperform commercially available high-performance materials in a number of ways.

“We finally have a nanotube fiber with properties that don’t exist in any other material,” said lead researcher Matteo Pasquali, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and chemistry at Rice. “It looks like black cotton thread but behaves like both metal wires and strong carbon fibers.”

“The new CNT fibers have a thermal conductivity approaching that of the best graphite fibers but with 10 times greater electrical conductivity,” said study co-author Marcin Otto, business development manager at Teijin Aramid. “Graphite fibers are also brittle, while the new CNT fibers are as flexible and tough as a textile thread. We expect this combination of properties will lead to new products with unique capabilities for the aerospace, automotive, medical and smart-clothing markets.”

Nanotubes are tightly packed in the new carbon nanotube fibers produced by Rice University and Teijin Aramid. This cross section of a test fiber, which was taken with a scanning electron microscope, shows only a few open gaps inside the fiber.

Science – Strong, Light, Multifunctional Fibers of Carbon Nanotubes with Ultrahigh Conductivity

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3D cork-like structures created from graphene

2012/12/06 in 3d. materials, graphene, nanotechnology, science, Transhuman

Monash University researchers have established, for the first time, an effective way of forming graphene, which normally exists in very thin layers, into useful three-dimensional (3D) forms by mirroring the structure of cork.

Graphene is formed when graphite is broken down into layers one atom thick. In this form, it is very strong, chemically stable and an excellent conductor of electricity. It has a wide range of potential applications, from batteries that are able to recharge in a matter of seconds, to biological tissue scaffolds for use in organ transplant and even regeneration.

Professor Li, from the Department of Materials Engineering, said previous research had focused mainly on the intrinsic properties and applications of the individual sheets, while his team tackled the challenge of engineering the sheets into macroscopically-useable 3D structures.

"When the atomic graphene sheets are assembled together to form 3D structures, they normally end up with porous monoliths that are brittle and perform poorly," Professor Li said.

Scanning electron microscope image of cork-like cellular graphene monolith, magnified 2000 times. Credit: Ling Qiu

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Lava dots: Rice makes hollow, soft-shelled quantum dots

2012/11/19 in nanoscale, nanotechnology, quantum dots, science, Transhuman

New “lava dot” particles were discovered accidentally when researchers stumbled upon a way of using molten droplets of metal salt to make hollow, coated versions of a nanotech staple called quantum dots. The researchers also found that lava dots arrange themselves in evenly spaced patterns on flat surfaces, thanks in part to a soft outer coating that can alter its shape when the particles are tightly packed.

“We’re exploring potential of using these particles as catalysts for hydrogen production, as chemical sensors and as components in solar cells, but the main point of this paper is how we make these materials,” said co-author Michael Wong, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice. “We came up with this ‘molten-droplet synthesis’ technique and found we can use the same process to make hollow nano-size particles out of several kinds of elements. The upshot is that this discovery is about a whole family of particles rather than one specific composition.”

Like their quantum dot cousins, Rice’s lava dots can be made of semiconductors like cadmium selenide and zinc sulfide.

A nine-pack of lava dots created at Rice. Photo by Sravani Gullapalli

Nanotechnology Journal – Molten-droplet synthesis of composite CdSe hollow nanoparticles

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Michio Kaku: Can Nanotechnology Create Utopia?

2012/11/19 in Michio Kaku, nanotechnology, replicator, Transhuman, Utopia, Video, What if?

Dr. Kaku addresses the question of the possibility of utopia, the perfect society that people have tried to create throughout history.

These dreams have not been realized because we have scarcity. However, now we have nanotechnology, and with nanotechnology, perhaps, says Dr. Michio Kaku, maybe in 100 years, we’ll have something called the replicator, which will create enormous abundance.

Click here to view the embedded video.



Michio Kaku: Throughout human history people have tried to create utopia, the perfect society.  In fact, America, the American dream, in some sense was based on utopianism.  Why do we have the Shaker movement?  Why did we have the Quakers?  Why did we have so many different kinds of religious movements that fled Europe looking to create a utopia here in the Americas?  Well, we know the Shakers have disappeared and many of these colonies have also disappeared only to be found in footnotes in American textbooks, and the question is why?

One reason why is scarcity because back then the industrial revolution was still young and societies had scarcity.  Scarcity creates conflict and unless you have a way to resolve conflict, your colony falls apart.  How do you allocate resources?  Who gets access to food when there is a famine?  Who gets shelter when there is a snowstorm and all of the sudden you’ve eaten up your seed corn?  These are questions that faced the early American colonists, and that’s the reason why we only see the ghost towns of these utopias.

However, now we have nanotechnology, and with nanotechnology, perhaps, who knows, maybe in 100 years, we’ll have something called the replicator.  Now the replicator is something you see in Star Trek.  It’s called the molecular assembler and it takes ordinary raw materials, breaks them up at the atomic level and joins the joints in different ways to create new substances.  If you have a molecular assembler, you can turn, for example, a glass into wood or vice versa.  You would have the power of a magician, in fact, the power of a god, the ability to literally transform the atoms of one substance into another and we see it on Star Trek.

It’s also the most subversive device of all because if utopias fail because of scarcity then what happens when you have infinite abundance?  What happens when you simply ask and it comes to you?  One of my favorite episodes on Star Trek is when the Enterprise encounters a space capsule left over from the 20th century, the bad 20th century.  People died of all these horrible diseases, and many people froze themselves knowing that in the 23rd century or so they’ll be thawed out and their diseases will be cured.  Well, sure enough, it’s the 23rd century now.  The Enterprise finds a space capsule and begins to revive all these people and cure them of cancer, cure them of incurable genetic diseases, and then one of these individuals, however, was a banker.  He is revived and he says to himself, “My God, my gamble worked; I’m alive; I’m in the 23rd century,” and he said, “Call my stock broker; call my banker; I am rich; I am rich; my investments, they have been sitting there in the bank for centuries; I must be a quadrillionaire!”  And then the crew of the Enterprise looks at this man and says, ”What is money; what is a bank; what is a stock broker?  We don’t have any of these in the 23rd century,” and then they say, “If you want something, you simply ask for it and you get it.”

Now that’s subversive.  That’s revolutionary because if all utopiansocieties vanished because of scarcity and conflict, what happens when there is no scarcity?  What happens when you simply ask and you get what you want?  This has enormous philosophical implications.  For example, why bother to work?  Why bother to go to work when you simply ask for things and it comes to you?

Now, some sociologists think that if drugs, for example, are totally legalized, absolutely legalized then maybe three to five percent of the human race will become permanent drug addicts.  That’s the price for total legalization of drugs.  I don’t know, but that’s a number that people talk about.  What happens when we have this society based on replicators?  Then will we have three to five percent of the human race become permanent parasites?  This is a possibility.  The whole nature of the human psyche is based around producing things, doing something, making a contribution.  What happens when you don’t have to do that anymore?  What happens when there is infinite plenty?  What happens if there is a utopia?

The detractors will say, “Bah-humbug! There is no replicator; it violates the laws of physics.”  Well, actually that’s not true.  There actually is a nanobot that can replicate, actually take apart molecules and rearrange them in fantastic ways.  Mother Nature has already created it.  It’s called the ribosome.  The ribosome can take hamburgers, milk shakes and turn them into a baby in nine months.  That is a miracle.  The ribosome takes hamburgers, French fries, potato chips, breaks apart the molecules and reassembles them into DNA.  Mother Nature has created the replicator.  It replicates humans, but what happens when humans create replicators by which we can replicate everything?  This is a very subversive idea.

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Nanometer-scale diamond tips improve nano-manufacturing

2012/11/14 in diamond, nanoscale, nanotechnology, science, Transhuman

One of the most promising innovations of nanotechnology has been the ability to perform rapid nanofabrication using nanometer-scale tips. The fabrication speed can be dramatically increased by using heat. High speed and high temperature have been known to degrade the tip… until now.

“Thermal processing is widely used in manufacturing,” according to William King, the College of Engineering Bliss Professor at Illinois. “We have been working to shrink thermal processing to the nanometer scale, where we can use a nanometer-scale heat source to add or remove material, or induce a physical or chemical reaction.”

One of the key challenges has been the reliability of the nanometer-scale tips, especially with performing nano-writing on hard, semiconductor surfaces. Now, researchers at the University of Illinois, University of Pennsylvania, and Advanced Diamond Technologies Inc., have created a new type of nano-tip for thermal processing, which is made entirely out of diamond.

“The end of the diamond tip is 10 nm in size,” King explained. “Not only can the tip be used for nanometer-scale thermal processing, but it is extremely resistant to wear.”

The research findings are reported in the article, “Ultrananocrystalline diamond tip integrated onto a heated atomic force microscope (AFM) cantilever,” that appears in in the journal Nanotechnology. The study shows how the 10 nm diamond tip scans in contact with a surface for a distance of more than 1.2 meters, and experiences essentially no wear over that distance.

Diamond nano-tip integrated onto the micro-heater of a doped silicon microcantilever. The tip has a radius of 10 nm.

Ultrananocrystalline diamond tip integrated onto a heated atomic force microscope cantilever

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Carbon Nanotubes can be produced with predictable diameter and chirality

2012/11/14 in carbon nanotubes, commercialization, nanoscale, nanotechnology, science, Transhuman

A key reason carbon nanotubes are not in computers right now is that they are difficult to manufacture in a predictable way. Scientists have had a difficult time controlling the manufacture of nanotubes to the correct diameter, type and ultimately chirality — factors that control nanotubes’ electrical and mechanical properties.

Think of chirality like this: If you took a sheet of notebook paper and rolled it straight up into a tube, it would have a certain chirality. If you rolled that same sheet up at an angle, it would have a different chirality. In this example, the notebook paper represents a sheet of latticed carbon atoms that are rolled up to create a nanotube.

A team led by Professor Chongwu Zhou of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and Ming Zheng of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland solved the problem by inventing a system that consistently produces carbon nanotubes of a predictable diameter and chirality.

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