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« Military Influence | Main | Challenges and Pitfalls »

August 28, 2007


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Tom Craver

A couple of comments on the column:

I wonder if cars might be made more efficient by having them compress all the air hitting front surfaces, passing it at higher speed and pressure through vacuum insulated pipes - so that it takes up less cross sectional area as it passes the passenger cabin - and letting it expand out the rear of the car, recovering some of that energy as thrust, and eliminating the partial vacuum that causes additional drag.

Paul Nurse

Why not replace all freeways with vacuum tunnels with airlocks at each exit, using computer control we could easily have top speeds exceeding 300mph and effectively replace the airplane at the same time.

John B

Chris, I think your article looks too far into the future. In my opinion initial production will be 'bling' - gem quality diamonds. Say bye-bye to the international value of the diamond monopoly, deBeers.

This alone will have massive economic ramifications. Those diamond nest eggs aren't going to be anywhere near as good as expected, and the 'blood diamonds' may be much less sought, possibly damping that conflict. (Not every silver lining has to have a stormcloud, after all! - And it's not clear that that's the primary motivating force behind that conflict area...)

Next will be the precision formation of materials of diamondoid to a point where modern CAD/CAM looks anemic. This will probably lead to some problems, as there are few if any pressure pipes today made of diamondoid for instance. There's a HUGE body of knowledge gathered 'the hard way' over time in dealing with various construction materials. That body of knowledge will need be replicated for diamondoid materials. And, like the last bits, there'll be expensive surprises - expensive in money and in lives.

Initially, there will probably be size restrictions on materials produced by nanofactories. Depending on the doubling time of nanofactories & the willingness of the organization that creates the initial self-replicable nanofac TO double its creations, this may be either a non-issue (with lots of doublings) or a serious restriction (with few doublings) until such time as someone else comes up with either a 'black market' version or a new implementation of the capability that DOES care to double its products rapidly.

Over time as this body of knowledge DOES grow, other capabilities will make it to public use, possibly with some period of exclusive private use preceeding the public usage. These will EVENTUALLY get to high capability nanomaterials - rod logic, etc - but I suspect it'll take a bit to get developers 'used to' the new production capabilities and financiers comfortable with them enough to produce other than early Linux equivalents - great tools if you don't mind buggy and patchy capabilities.

Over time, it may be that there'll become a more mature capability more along the lines of a modern Linux distro - much more well-rounded, stable, and capable. However, as per the Linux development process, this will take TIME. How much is TBD...

Just my 2c...

-John B

John B

Oh, my bad - A not-so-hidden assumption: I am presupposing that diamondoid is the primary material used. If other materials (silicon, carborundumoid, etc) instead take the lead in development, that'll greatly affect the outcome. For instance, silicon isn't going to be particularly useful in anywhere near as many mechanical roles as diamondoid . . .

-John B

Comments on the column, regarding rockets and space:

Personal rockets - even if very inexpensive to make - will still take a lot of fuel to launch, and storage at a remote and likely expensive launch facility. So mainly for rich hobbyists or big organizations.

We could slash the costs of manned launch costs today, while making them safer, if we changed our approach.

The key is reducing payload to orbit, for manned launches. Dump everything except what you need to get a person to orbit - heat shield, retro-rocket and fuel, parachute, and once you're out of the atmosphere drop the aerodynamic capsule - passengers ride in a space suit. Quickly rendezvous with a re-useable ship waiting in orbit - another large chunk of mass you won't need to launch every time a person goes into orbit.

With that approach, a small rocket launched from a jet could carry a person to orbit. Or an Atlas sized rocket (used to launch one person in a Mercury capsule) might launch 5 or 6 people.

Or use a single stage to orbit rocket - simpler, safer, cheaper to make and launch, even if it uses twice the fuel and carries half the passengers.

OK, but how do they get back down? When we get MNT, make re-entry craft in orbit - plenty of mass in the last rocket stages, which arrive in orbit with the payload.

Until then, launch every ounce possible via cheap expendable rockets before putting humans into orbit. Even if one rocket in 10 crashes, you've only increased your costs 10%. That rate would be intolerable for human launches. You also gain a bit of efficiency by allowing higher acceleration than humans can tolerate.

Tom Craver

Sorry - that was me.

John B

Tom - The only problem with a true space based economy with a 10% launch failure rate would be - where do those 10% land?

-John B

Tom Craver

I chose 10% as deliberately high - 3% is a more realistic number. Either would be tolerable at the launch rates needed to, as an example, establish a moon base - maybe a hundred cargo flights a year. And it'd decrease with experience.

Debris from destroyed rockets would fall in the ocean or a large desert. Fuel would have been ignited and mostly burned by a self-destruct, before it gets to the surface. Salvage crews could be paid to collect debris.

John B

Tom, works great until the salvage crew has to operate in a city.

-John B

Tom Craver

John - Sorry, but I think you're picking a really minor point to focus on, one really not very central to my post.

But to answer your question - people die every day in auto accidents. So if a falling chunk of rocket kills someone once a century by falling on someone in a city located in the middle of the ocean or a vast desert, I think as a society we'll adapt.

brian wang

John, in regards to your early post on gem quality diamonds as a product. We can already grow 100 carat gem quality diamonds using CVD.


The Carnegie Institute's Geophysical Laboratory can produce 10 carat (2 g) single-crystal diamonds rapidly (28 nm/s) by CVD, as well as colorless single-crystal diamonds. Growth of colorless diamonds up to 60 g (300 carats) is believed achievable using their method]

The standard growth rate is 100 micrometers per hour for the Carnegie process, but growth rates in excess of 300 micrometers per hour have been reached, and 1 millimeter per hour may be possible.

About 12 hours to grow the 10 carat diamond if the 1 millimeter per hour rate is done.

World production of diamonds is about 100 million carats per year. So 20,000 CVD machines would produce the synthesized diamond equivalent of current world production. And the CVD diamonds would be bigger and flawless.

John B

I'm aware of CVD diamond production, however the amount of toolup required for such production makes it prohibitive - you're effectively shooting your investment's payback in the foot (if not the kneecap!) by doubling supply without concomitantly increasing demand.

I mention gem quality diamond as a nanofac product as it is IMO more likely to be a new rhinestone-like fad once (diamondoid) nanofacs are in place for other reasons. Given wide availability of nanofacs, I see it as highly likely such a fad would occur - the thrill of owning a big 'rock' would however be a reasonably fleeting experience, when your neighbors are growing a diamond house, and down the street diamondoid paving is being installed.

Additionally, I suspect it'll either be an early fad, or not a fad at all. Once diamondoid becomes prosaic, it'll become blase. Look at early plastic products and the modern take on plastic for historical examples.


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