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The issue

With shrinking size of machinery the surface area of this machinery rises. Doubling the surface area doubles the friction (a scaling law).

Extrapolating from speeds and friction levels of macroscale machinery leads to impractically high levels of waste heat generation.

This is one of the elephants in the room when introducing an audience to advanced APM.

Such an extrapolation is the first thing that any person knowledgeable in other micro- and nanotechnologies is likely do. Since this is not the only point where a first "quick" glance reveals a strongly discouraging result and experts usually are busy and have little time at hand to dig deeper, the situation sometimes leads these people to quickly deem all nanomachinery impossible, that looks superficially similar to macro scale cog-and-gear-machinery.

Especially using micro-machionery (tech term: MEMS micro-electro-mechanical systems) as scaling trend leads to hugely misleading results.

What makes it work despite the issue

There are several effect working against this explosion of friction which are repeatedly overlooked.

Flawless surfaces drop friction significantly

In contrast to etched micro-systems where the relative manufacturing error gets bigger with shrinking size. Atomically precise machinery has no error allow superlubrication which drops friction at least three orders of magnitude

One needs to slow down anyway to prevent an explosion of productivity

Rising productivity allows to slow down motion speeds (e.g. to just few mm per second) while keeping throughput constant. Slowing down to halve the speed drops drops the fiction to a fourth (a quadratic scaling law – tech term: dynamic drag).

Main article: "Higher productivity of smaller machinery".

Dropping speeds further by smart arrangements

By dividing relative speeds up in several layers each taking a proportional part of the speed area goes up, yes, but the drop in speed has a bigger effect.

See main article: "Infinitesimal bearings"

Evolved molecular biology is not a proof that diffusion transport is the ideal solution with minimal losses

With those aforementioned effects cog-and-gear nanomachinery could potential feature smaller losses than diffusion driven natural systems (more on that comparison further down). To quantify that more in depth investigations are needed.

The issue

Nature is often (probably mostly out of psychological reasons) seen as unsurpassable. But actually it is completely unknowable whether nature as a whole will be "surpassed" by artificial technology in the far future (get side-tracked). Regardless of that, specific aspects of nature definitively can (and have been) surpassed by artificial technologies (there are countless examples).

Evolution ended up with diffusion transport and not cog-and-gear-machinery. Taken the former in to consideration that does by no means imply that this is the best or only solution. Actually evolution is facing severe limitations (lock-in-effect, incrementalism, ...).

(This is only one of the many cases where bio-analogies can have a problematic effect on perception.)

Why cog-and-gear transport may be more efficient

While diffusion transport features no friction during the transport process itself diffusion transport is not at all lossless. At intermediate passing stations some energy always needs to be converted to heat (tech term: dissipated). Otherwise the chemical reactions would not have a preferred direction to go and all the molecular "machinery" would cease to do anything.

Of course cog-and gear nanomachinery has exactly the same requirement. The big difference is that in biological systems energy often comes in discrete disconnected chunks. If ther's more than needed the excess is dissipated without being used for some desired effect. In a crude analogy it's like being unable to accept the change money.

In cog-and-gear nanomachinery everything is linked together in one big machine phase There energy can be drawn in a continuous rather than discrete fashion. The dissipation necessary for forward moving operation (arrow of time) can be balanced and minimized further down to the absolutely unconditionally required minimum. See main article: "Low speed efficiency limit"


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