Foresight sees the creation of technical and policy roadmaps as key to accomplishing a number of objectives in the nanotechnology field. Roadmaps help to coordinate the thinking and activity of key stakeholders including governments, corporations, research institutions, policy professionals, investors, educators and the media. They provide a framework for articulating the pathways and steps which must be taken to progress from the present state of development to a desired future goal. They illuminate what we should be focusing on today and provide an important basis for defining current research and commercialization agendas. The Roadmaps link on the Resources page provides examples of roadmaps from several industries:

The first roadmap developed by Foresight is Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems. Both biological examples and analyses based on molecular physics indicate that productive molecular machine systems can enable economical, large-scale fabrication of products built with atomic precision. However, a daunting implementation gap separates the nanostructures of today from the complex productive nanosystems of the future. How can this gap be narrowed and eventually closed? The development of adequate tools to build these systems will require several intermediate stages, each building on the results of the previous stage. Biopolymers (DNA, protein) can provide a basis for the design and fabrication of atomically-precise, self-assembling composite structures — they can form molecular components that bind and organize diverse nanostructures (nanotubes, macromolecules) to form molecular machine systems. This engineering capability will enable the design and fabrication of an initial generation of productive nanosystems. These in turn can be used to build non-biomolecular self-assembling structures, including a more advanced generation of productive nanosystems. Further steps can lead from the production of 1-dimensional polymers to 2- and 3-dimensional covalent structures, from self-assembly to simpler, mechanical construction methods, and from microscopic systems to desktop-scale factories.

This roadmap aims to provide guidance regarding the challenges and opportunities for productive nanosystems, describing strategic objectives for current research and their relationship to long-term goals for advanced nanotechnology. Its scope includes:

  • Current capabilities in design, modeling, fabrication, and testing
  • Overall readiness for developing next-generation productive nanosystems
  • Strategies for developing more advanced systems
  • Potential products of systems at successive levels of development
  • Policy issues raised by productive nanosystems

Project Initiation

June 21, 2005: Ted Waitt, Gateway Founder, to Join Steering Committee and Fund Effort with Initial $250,000 Grant

Battelle to Collaborate

Menlo Park, CA – June 21, 2005 – Foresight Institute, the leading nanotechnology research organization, and Battelle, a leading global research and development organization, have launched a Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems through an initial grant of $250,000 from The Waitt Family Foundation. The group is assembling a world-class steering committee to guide this groundbreaking project, and has garnered the support of several important industry organizations as roadmap partners.

Productive Nanosystems are functional systems that make atomically precise structures, components, and devices under programmable control. The Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems will provide a common framework for understanding the pathways for developing such systems, the challenges that must be overcome in their development and the applications that they can address. The Roadmap will also serve as a basis for formulating research and commercialization agendas for achieving these capabilities. Productive Nanosystems will drive research and applications in a host of areas, providing new atomically-precise nanoscale building blocks, devices and systems. The intended audiences for the Roadmap include governments, corporations, research institutions, investors, economic development organizations, public policy professionals, educators and the media.

“We are very pleased to have the support of The Waitt Family Foundation and Battelle as a partner on this critical pioneering nanotechnology project,” said Scott Mize, past President of Foresight Nanotech Institute. “The Waitt Family Foundation and its related institutes are very forward–thinking, and Battelle is one of the best research organizations in the world. With their involvement, we will be able to identify the large gap between the basic nanostructured materials being manufactured today, and the potential of productive nanosystems. This roadmap initiative will chart the steps required to get from here to there.”

“The incredible promise of nanotechnology has continued to be twenty years away for the past twenty years,” said Ted Waitt, founder of The Waitt Family Foundation. “History has shown that goal-oriented science can achieve great breakthroughs. We need focused goals, milestones to achieve, and a strong strategic plan. By putting the best minds together to resolve differences and identify critical breakthroughs, I believe we can coordinate the vast resources being deployed globally and dramatically accelerate progress in the field. I look forward to contributing to this exciting and important roadmap effort.”

“The accelerating pace of nanoscience progress makes it critical that we take a rational approach to planning the future developments in productive nanosystems,” said Dr. Carl F. Kohrt, President and Chief Executive Officer of Battelle, “With its decades of experience pioneering the beneficial use of nanotechnology for mankind, Foresight Nanotech Institute is an excellent collaborator on this roadmap project.”

The Roadmap process will involve a series of workshops and coordinating the contributions of experts from private industry, government, research institutes, and academia. The project will be launched with its first workshop in late summer 2005, with completion of the Roadmap slated for late 2006.

“We believe that multi-disciplinary teams from the national laboratories and universities working in close collaboration with scientists and business leaders from industry is a critical success factor. This collaborative initiative will enable us to create a visionary document which will shape the future of global productive nanosystem innovations,” said Alex Kawczak, Vice President, BioProducts and Nanostructured Materials, of Battelle.

The steering committee, currently being assembled includes: Ted Waitt, Chairman of Avalon Capital Group and The Waitt Family Foundation; Alex Kawczak, Vice President, Battelle; Dr. Charles M. Lieber, Professor, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University; Dr. William A. Haseltine, President, William A. Haseltine Foundation for Medical Sciences and the Arts; Dr. Mauro Ferrari, Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Internal Medicine, The Ohio State University; Dr. Paul Alivisatos, Chancellor’s Professor of Chemistry and Materials Science, University of California, Berkeley, and Director, Materials Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Dr. J. Fraser Stoddart, Fred Kavli Chair in NanoSystems Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, and Director, California NanoSystems Institute; Dr. John Randall, Chief Technology Officer, Zyvex; Dr. Jim Roberto, Chief Research Officer and Deputy Laboratory Director, Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Dr. Robert Hwang, Director, Center for Functional Nanomaterials, Brookhaven National Laboratory; and Steve Jurvetson, Managing Director, Draper Fisher Jurvetson. This committee will guide the development of the Roadmap.

The project is endorsed by a select group of industry and technical organizations that will also participate in the development of the Roadmap. These include the NanoBusiness Alliance (NBA), the leading nanotechnology business association, the Nano Science and Technology Institute (NSTI), the leading organization for the development and integration of nanotechnology, SEMI, the leading global industry association for equipment, materials and service companies enabling micro- and nano-scale manufacturing, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), the leading biotechnology industry group, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the leading power industry research organization, and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), the world’s leading professional society supporting manufacturing education.

“We are extremely enthusiastic about having the support of such a prestigious array of organizations in developing the Roadmap,” said Mize. “This will assure that the Roadmap will meet the needs of the constituents that these groups serve, and that it will be widely adopted when it is completed.”


Feynman’s Path to Nanotechnology

The Feynman path is summarized in a series of Nanodot posts:

  1. Feynman’s proposal to achieve molecular manufacturing.

The idea is to start from the macroscale machining and fabrication and move to the nanoscale without ever losing the general fabrication and manipulation ability.

  1. A historical note on the idea : Heinlein’s fictional Waldoes. Waldoes in the story were (a) self-replicating (”Reduplicating”) and (b) scale-shifting (”Pantograph”).
  2. Why hasn’t the Feynman Path been attempted, or at least studied and analyzed?

* there still seems to be a “giggle factor” associated with the notion of a compact, macroscale, self-replicating machine using standard fabrication and assembly techniques

* In standard technology a factory is much bigger and more complex than whatever it makes

* KSRMs (kinematic self-replicating machines) are difficult

* KSRMs defy standard design methodologies

A major step toward the Feynman Path would be to work out a scalable architecture for a workable KSRM that actually closed the circle all the way. A reasonable start would be a deposition-based fab machine, a multi-axis mill for surface tolerance inprovement, and a pair of waldoes. See how close you could get to replication with that, and iterate.

  1. The Feynman path involves more than MEMS

A full machining and manipulation capability at the microscale would allow lapping, polishing, and other surface improvement techniques, which photolithography-based MEMS does not.

  1. Is it worth starting now ?

The bottom-up folks are not nearly as close to real nanotech as the impression the nano-hype news gives.

Top-down and bottom-up can meet in the middle. When nanoscientists succeed in making an atomically precise nanogear, for example, it means that when the Feynman Path machines get to that scale, they can take the gear off the shelf instead of having to fabricate it the hard way. In fact it seems likely that the bottom-up approaches will likely be the way parts are made and the top-down the way they’re put together.

I’ll stick my neck out and say at a wild guess that if only bottom-up approaches are pursued, we have 20 years to wait for real nanotech; but if the Feynman Path is actively pursued as well, it could be cut to 10.

  1. Some of the Open Questions
  2. Is it in fact possible to build a compact self-replicating machine using macroscopic parts fabricators and manipulators? We know that a non-compact one is possible — the world industrial infrastructure can replicate itself — and we know that a compact microscopic replicator can work, e.g. a bacterium. But the bacterium uses diffusive transport, associative recognition of parts by shape-based docking, and other complexity-reducing techniques that are not available at the macroscale.
  3. Not quite the same question: how much cheating can we get away with? In KSRM theory, it’s common to specify an environment for the machine to replicate in and some “vitamins,” bits that the machine can’t make and have to be provided, just as our bodies can’t synthesize some of the molecules we need and must get them pre-made in our diets

and others

  1. Outline of the steps to make a Feynman Path roadmap.
  2. Design a scalable, remotely-operated manufacturing and manipulation workstation capable of replicating itself anywhere from its own scale to one-quarter relative scale. As noted before, the design is allowed to take advantage of any “vitamins” or other inputs available at the scales they are needed.
  3. Implement the architecture at macroscale to test, debug and verify the design. This would be a physical implentation, probably in plastic or similar materials, at desktop scale, and would include operator controls that would not have to be replicated.
  4. Identify phase changes and potential roadblocks in the scaling pathway and determine scaling steps. Verify scalability of the architecture through these points in simulation. Example: electromagnetic to electrostatic motors. It would be perfectly legitimate to use externally supplied coils above a certain scale if they were available, and shift to electrostatic actuation, which would involve only conducting plates, below that scale, and never require the system to be able to wind coils.
  5. Identify the smallest scale, using best available fabrication and assembly technology, at which the target architecture can currently be built.
  6. Write up a detailed, actionable roadmap to the desired fabrication and manipulation techniques at the nanoscale.
  7. An example of prior work which suggests that 1/1000th scale is a good place to start on the Feynman Path.

In 1994 Japanese researchers at Nippondenso Co. Ltd. fabricated a 1/1000th-scale working electric car. As small as a grain of rice, the micro-car was a 1/1000-scale replica of the Toyota Motor Corp’s first automobile, the 1936 Model AA sedan.

  1. Promising candidates technologies for fabricating key components or steps and considerations for the Feynman Path.

* It seems very likely that the motors we use will be electrostatic steppers

* A particularly important aspect of the Feynman Path is that not much more than halfway down to molecular scale in part size, we already hit atomic scale in tolerance

* A Feynman Path workcell actually avoids the problem that a standard solid-freeform-fab (SFF) design has with building something its own size, because it’s building a copy that’s smaller than itself

* electrodeposition (and electro-removal, as in EDM) and electroplating will be useful

  1. The Feynman Path initiative is a specific, concrete proposal — but more, it’s one that can be done in an open-source way, for at least the first, roadmap.

There’s a fundamental similarity between a Feynman Path machine (FPm) and a RepRap, obviously, in their orientation to self-replication. This includes the fact that both schemes require a human to be actively involved in the replication process, in the FPm by teleoperation. But there are some fundamental differences:

Attitude to cost: a RepRap is intended to be a means to cheap manufacturing, so it’s oriented to using the least expensive materials available. An FPm has much less concern about that: each successive machine in the series uses less than 2% the material of the previous one. It would be perfectly reasonable to design an FPm that had to carve all its parts out of solid diamond, once past the millimeter scale, for example. The goal is to understand principles, not supplant the economy (at least until the nanoscale is reached).

Attitude to closure: RepRap assumes human assembly labor, but an FPm has to provide its own manipulating capabilities. RepRap allows exogenous parts that are widely available and inexpensive; an FPm allows parts that are available at all scales.

Assembly time vs accuracy: As a consumer-goods production machine, RepRap has at least some concern for how long it takes to do its job. An FPm has much less concern about time, but much more about accuracy, since it has to improve its product’s tolerance over its own by a substantial factor.

(this summary was originally written by Brian Wang, to whom great thanks!)