Soft-core macrorobots with hard-core nanomachinery

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This article defines a novel term (that is hopefully sensibly chosen). The term is introduced to make a concept more concrete and understand its interrelationship with other topics related to atomically precise manufacturing. For details go to the page: Neologism.

In this wiki "soft-core macro-robots with hard-core nano-machinery" (or "socoma-hacona-bots" for anyone liking silly shorthands) are all the advanced macroscale robots that will be enabled by gem-gum technology. They are very different from what robots are associated with today (2017).

Note that the concept of "robot" is extremely wide it can, is and will often be interpreted in such a way that it includes everything that actively can move in a nontrivial purposeful manner.

With gem-gum technology it will become possible to make very peculiar soft and seamless macroscale "robots" (here: socoma-hacona-bots). Robots that are not at all like the "soft robots" of today (2017).

  • Not like robots wrapped in passive a silicon/plush/fur material.
  • Not like robots that use some soft "artificial muscles" based on limited non AP technology.
  • Not like robots that emulate compliant behavior through software.

What will be possible is to make robots that are through and through (down to the inner core) made out of highly performant active material that can be made such that it feels just as soft to the touch as desired.

It may go a bit against intuition but the really highly performing soft macro-robots will only be enabled by making things out of hard nanomachinery (at the small scale core). For an overly vivid intuitive image of the character and performance levels possible imagine products containing "muscles" with power densities like combustion engines (thats a ridiculous underestimation in case power density where to be maximized - which usually won't be done) and with enough control and dexterity to juggle a lot of eggs on in a driving race-car.

Reasons for the chosen term

  • "Soft core" refers to the lack of "conventional" hard macroscopic robotics even at the inner core parts of robots.
  • "Hard core" refers to the stiff nanomachinery at the smallest scales. The core gem-gum technology.
  • ...


Classical hard robots (2017) vs socoma-hacona robots

Today (2017) when one mentions (macroscopic) robots the usual association is figuratively speaking a bunch of "tin cans". In more detail the usual associations are:

  • stiff linkage segments connected by ...
  • hinges which often contain ...
  • metal ball/roller/needle/... bearings which are
  • usually lubricated with some oil and usually are ...
  • actuated by electric motors (or sometimes actuated by hydraulics or pneumatics) via
  • drive belts/chains/gear-trains/...

All these (macroscale) characteristics will change drastically once advanced atomically precise technology is available.

  • Stiff linkage segments will remain but they will blur with actuators. Form single purpose deformations to fully freely deformable snake like tentacles. All made from various potentially elastic types of gem gum.
  • There will be no more ball/roller/needle... bearings. Those will be replaced by infinitesimal bearings with speed gradients.
  • There will be no more lubrication oil and no gaps where dust and dirt can creep in.
  • There will be no more bulky off site localized electrical motors and no drive chains/belts/gear-trains/... . Those will be replaced by a small volume of chemomechanical converters.

At the nanoscale the characteristic of robots will change from large slabs of unstructured passive materials (metal alloys, polymers, ceramics, ...) with crude rough surfaces rolling over another in a slowly destructive "slamming in" way, to highly intricate atomically precise (hard) nanomachinery. Nanomachinery which is in some aspects very similar to the classical macroscopic robotics of today (2017) and nonetheless is very suitable for emulating the "non-robotic" properties at the macroscale as described above. One could say that those future "socona-hacoma-bots" will hide away their somewhat classical robotic machinery in the depths of the nanoscale.

Soft robots of today (2017) - no match

Well, there are "soft robots" today (2017) but with this we usually mean things that aren't even remotely comparable to the above. These things are (no claim for completeness):

  • Soft skins over a classical robotic skeletons.
  • Some exotic actuation mechanisms (soft pneumatic muscles, soft gel based muscles).
    All of those have at least some of the following problems: inefficiency, degradation, low-force, ...
  • Software emulated actuator compliance. These are motivated because industrial robots that develop sufficient forced to be able to cause injuries and that are operated by open loop control are pretty dangerous (squeezing) and thus cannot directly interact with humans.

Likely the most severe limitation todays robots suffer is from the complete unavailability of actuators that come near the characteristics of biological muscles. To be fair, the emulation approach and electric motors came a long way though (Browse for: "Boston Dynamics").

Socona-hacoma-bots in gem-gum factories

In case convergent assembly is continued up all the way to the macroscale (a non-flat voluminous gem-gum factory) one has per definition one or more robotic manipulators at the macroscale.

As long as one does not go to insane operation speeds and one does not operate in an environment that rumbles like an out of control wood-wheel-horse-cart racing down a stony mountain path, stiffness is not an issue. Thus manipulators can be made very filigree.

It is hard to tell in advance what would actually be the best design for an manipulator when all the above mentioned capabilities are available at the macroscale. Very likely is that it won't look like anything that we would build today.

For assembling manipulators certainly a good approach is streaming parts up through/on the manipulator.

Is there benefit in maximizing the manipulators freedom of motion making it pretty much tentacle like. Or is it better to keep it more like simple classical robotics (less programming effort maybe). Unlike in biological systems that need bones to preserve energy in gem-gum-tec systems stiffness can be permanently locked in thus there is no need for a bone analogy. In any case one should avoid overgeneralizations. Tentacle manipulators are already very far up the generalization ladder. If tentacle manipulators are not even behaving like an incompressible elastic solid one gets dangerously near to the "magic" all purpose utility fog which conceptually lies near the early obsolete bio-analogies (major difference: self replication & productivity) which mangle everything together.

Depending on the job the assembling manipulator can be disassembled and in other form reassembled by assembling manipulators of the next lower assembly level. So the range of actually used manipulators may be changing all the time. For microrecomposing retro shoelaces one may want a temporary manipulator as simple as a spool.

Human interaction - medicine - massage

  • form fitting furniture and clothing (See: "Gem-gum suit")
  • socoma-hacona massage devices – for relieving physical and psychological tensions
  • telepresence (See: "Multi limbed sensory equipped shells")
  • prosthetics ...
  • whole body replacement (See: "Transhumanism" – Warning! you are moving into more speculative areas.)

High stiffness nanomachinery

The term "robot" is very general just like the problematic prefix "nano-". Combined these two forms the term "nano-robot" which can refer to a very wide range of things. So wide that completely different things (soft and hard; replicative and non-replicative) tend to get confused with each other causing problems. The focus here though are "macrorobots" where the range is not quite as wide. (Still the class is pretty large. It includes drones like e.g. quadrocopters, autonomous ground vehicles and even washing machines.)

Nanoscale: soft to hard ⇒ Macroscale: hard to soft

  • moving from "soft nanomachines" to "hard nanomachines" allows for quickly
  • moving from "hard macromachines" to soft "macromachines".

Note though that it may turn out (or may not) that early productive nanosystems that do not reach maximal levels of material stiffness yet already allow quite impressive results.

As obviously proven by the existence of animals soft nanomachinery does have the capability to create somewhat "robot like" systems. (Keeping the naming scheme these could be called "socoma-socona-bots"). So why not use / recreate them? Because:

  • Replicating these highly complex biological systems is a great deal much harder than going the engineering route.
  • The performance of such too superficially biomimetic systems is quite limited. Tissue like horn is quite sensitive to mechanical attack (knives) and thermal load. Exceeding the performance of biological systems with artificial soft nanomachines may be possible to some degree in some respects but by no means to the degree that hard nanomachines allow (many orders of magnitudes).
  • Given the proximity to life, pushing in those directions may pose ethical issues. Not that this would deter some folks from doing it anyway.

"Socoma-socona-bots" would be a result of the "brownian path" and thus not a form of advanced APM but rather the polar opposite.