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Nano Motors

Products put together by a nanofactory (see here for some fun examples) can be expected to be far more powerful and sophisticated than today’s best-built products.

One reason is that these products will be atomically-precise and effectively without flaws, meaning they will be far more durable and long-lasting. Another reason is that they will be constructed largely of diamondoid, giving them incredible strength and hardness, as well as flexibility. A third reason is that they can incorporate nano-built supercomputers, sensors, actuators, cameras, and other high-tech machinery.

But what will drive that machinery? What sort of tiny motors could be contained within these products?


Previously, we (and others) have written about using modular ‘nanoblocks’ as the basic building materials for nanofactory products:

There will be dozens or hundreds of nanoblock types, with each type parameterized to some extent. In a way, they might be very roughly analogous to the assembly language of a computer.

Some blocks might change dimension (actuators). Some could be sensors or display elements. Some might be analogous to utility tunnels with valves and conduits, programmable to distribute information, materials, and power. Some could contain computer CPU’s or other logic circuitry. Some would be nearly-solid structural components. Some might have wheels sticking out one side to contact a large shaft, with a cylindrical array of such blocks acting as a bearing or motor.

So, some of these dozens of basic nanoblock designs will contain motors. What kind of motors? Here are some options…

  1. Light-driven Motors: Rice University, for example, has demonstrated that molecular machines are possible with its “nanocar.” Last year, researchers at the school revealed that they had attached a motor to the molecule-size vehicle. The motor is powered by a beam of light, making it the first nanovehicle with its own engine. Roughly 20,000 of the cars could be parked side-by-side across the diameter of a human hair, the scientists said.
  2. Electrostatic Motors: Electrostatic forces—static cling—can make a motor turn. As the motor shrinks, the power density increases; calculations show that a nanoscale electrostatic motor may have a power density as high as a million watts per cubic millimeter. And at such small scales, it would not need high voltage to create a useful force.
  3. Temperature-change Motors: Researchers from the Spanish National Research Council, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, and the Catalan Institute of Nanotechnology claim to have created the first nanomotor that is moved by changes in temperature. This is believed to be the first time a nanometre-sized motor has been created that can use changes in temperature to generate and control movements.
  4. The third one there is brand new:
    NanomotorThe ‘nanotransporter’ consists of a carbon nanotube—a cylindrical molecule formed by carbon atoms—covered with a shorter concentric nanotube that can move back and forth or act as a rotor. A metal cargo can be added to the shorter mobile tube, which could then transport this cargo from one end to the other of the longer tube or rotate it around its axis. Researchers are able to control these movements by applying different temperatures at the two ends of the long nanotube. The shorter mobile tube thus moves from the warmer to the colder area in a similar manner to the way in which air moves around a heater. . . The movements along the longer tube can be controlled with a precision of less than the diameter of an atom. This ability to control the objects at the nanometre scale can be extremely useful for future nanoelectromechanical applications.
    Note that this new motor can control movement “with a precision of less than the diameter of an atom”—in other words, with atomic precision. Again, this is not all the way to molecular manufacturing, as we said yesterday about the “prototype nano assembler.” But it’s impressive work, and adds yet another item to the nanoscale toolbox.
Mike Treder is a former Managing Director of the IEET.

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