There was a nanotechnology conference in 1998. I realise what some may be saying to this. Either, ‘What nanotechnology conference in 1998?’, or ‘What is nanotechnology?’, or even ‘So what – that was ten years ago!’ At least at the time of writing this… Well, whatever – there was such a conference in 1998 and I decided to mention it as there was a similar conference much more recent to this one in June 2003 held between members of the European Council – and so I ‘smelt a rat’ because frankly, I am certain that the general public at large did not know about either fixture. Back to 1998. The specific or actual title for this event was, ‘Second International conference on Integrated Micro-Nano Technology for Space Applications 1998’.
The FIRST conference was apparently in 1995! Intrigued? Surprised? I certainly was. Nothing was said on U.K television at least… One may ask, ‘why write about this’? Well, this recent area of technology is of considerable importance, or at least it soon will be (especially in light of the more recent EC conference on nanotech’), due to the very ‘nature’ of the subject itself and what it will mean not too far from now. Though as it is already 2008, some of what follows may already be in prototype stage.
This is probable fact, it is not scare scaremongering. But, what is Nanotechnology and Micro-technology (?), irrespective of these or any such conferences. Each in turn, for the two disciplines, though very closely related, are not exactly the same thing – or one and the same, at least in terms of size. Nanotechnology is concerned with the concept of ‘smart’ materials and even semi-autonomous machines or devices, ranging in size from something like an ANT, to near molecular dimensions – small enough to go into a hairline crack in a skirting-board, or to be injected into a living host respectively. Micro-technology however, is concerned with ‘things’ ranging in size from that of an ant to that of a small caterpillar or millipede. The ‘infrastructure’ for nanotechnology and micro-technology is already fairly established – and one of the very first (if not the first) ‘micro-nano bots’ was seen going across our television screens for a few brief seconds, circa 1987-88 (I forget the exact year, but remember seeing it in the late 1980’s). This particular ‘thing’ strongly resembled, and was about the same size as one of those very small hair-clips, only on four tiny ‘legs’. Some sort of ‘synthesis’ between a very small microprocessor and the memory-metal that it was made of, enabled it to move of its’ own accord. But that was the late 80’s – and this is 2003! The ‘speed’ at which micro/nano-technology has developed over the last decade or more since then, is on par with the development of the microprocessor itself during the decade or so before that.
Practical experiments/prototypes have included ‘devices’ that can be placed within the smallest areas or confines, such as minute cavities in walls, or cracks in pipelines or cable-ducts (for micro-technology) – and for nanotechnology, ‘devices’ small enough to be implanted into a living organism – the human body for instance. The implications of this will be considerable – it is their small/minute size that makes them powerful. Imagine an army of ‘titanium-steel silverfish’, or a synthetic ‘germ colony’ that could be controlled at will; either directly through a hand-held radio-control unit, or indirectly via a program stored on a ‘remote’ computer that ‘instructs’ the micro/nano-bots what to do (also by radio-control/telemetry).
These are currently (at the time of writing this) the limitations of nano and micro-technology. Because of the sizes involved, all-in-one ‘on board’ designs are not yet possible – and so they are not yet capable of fully autonomous operation. But this will undoubtedly change.
It won’t be long before we do have micro-controllers (essentially complete computers-on-a chip with memory and everything that have been around since the 1980’s; as opposed to ‘ordinary’ microprocessors/cpu-chips) small enough to fit onto devices of such size (the smallest one’s are in the area of 4.mm-square; although this would already fit into a micro-device the size of say a large caterpillar) – and subsequently micro-bots (if not perhaps nano-bots) that ARE fully autonomous and therefore independent of any host system.
This would mean that your synthetic germ-colony could instruct itself to lie dormant for any period of time and to then ‘awaken’ and perform whatever at a pre-programmed date… Various scientific institutions around the world have already created working micro-robot (and even some nano-robot) experiments, including devices that can crawl, burrow, go across or under water and even one’s that can fly! These developments in both micro and nano-technology have drawn great interest from both public and private concerns (government departments and private corporations). This includes the ‘space race’ authorities that have been quick to realise (in theory at least) both the cost-saving benefits and operational benefits of such devices, especially in maintenance roles – hence the ‘First International Conference on Integrated Micro-Nano Technology for Space Applications’ in 1995 (!) – and subsequently the second one of 1998!! The home-page of the website that I visited quite by chance upon a visit to Hove library in 2001 was entitled, ‘NanoSpace 98 – to the planets and beyond…’ subtitled – ‘Call for papers.’ This is the truth! I know this sounds ‘unreal’, but there you have it.
The overall aim of this conference was to continue the revolution in the development of space technology or hardware through a combination of nano-electronics, nano-scale disciplines and Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) for, or as the ‘building-blocks’ of Application Specific Integrated Micro-instruments – or ASIM’s.
International experts in these fields were brought together to determine or ascertain how they could be best applied to space exploration – and to explore the various aspects (hardware, software, protocol, etc) for both unmanned and manned space missions/activities yet to come. The conference was organised by CNST – Centre for Nano Space Technologies, which is a division of the ‘Institute for Advanced Interdisciplinary Research (IAIR) based in Houston, Texas – and was sponsored by NASA (!) and SAIC – the Science Applications International Corporation. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but this really, really is the truth).
This conference was a serious business. It was not a bogus or superficial event. Organisations like NASA and SAIC would never have put them selves forward to the level that they did if it was. The concept of ‘smart machines’ that could ‘investigate’ anything, anywhere and operate like any ‘full sized’ machine, but at micro and even nano scales, was a proposition too good to miss. Because for nearly every form of full-sized robot/device, there is already a prototype equivalent at micro-technology proportions and probably will be at nano proportions relatively soon (again; micro-tech’ = ant size to small caterpillar size, nano-tech’ = near microscopic size to near molecular size).
For instance, a typical spot-welding robot in a car assembly plant is about five feet tall and six feet long at the armature and the same thing at micro-tech’ scale approximately one cubic centimetre (overall occupied space). It rotates, it pivots and it welds! The average submarine is forty-feet long and can enter a harbour or a large underground cave. There are micro-technology scale/sized submarines three centimetres long and one centimetre wide that can similarly navigate rock-pools and enter cavities in large boulders, or enter the gap between the outer and inner casings of an underwater pipeline to extract/extricate some small organism that has somehow burrowed through! In space exploration, the micro-welder could detect and repair mission-critical apparatus, whilst the ‘submarine’ could be used to inspect liquid carrying conduits or pipelines, such as for hydraulic equipment.
Most of this is probably hypothetical however. It is not yet certain, even by the space research/exploration people that will use the technology, precisely which micro-scale (MEMS) devices/applications, will be used for what purposes. But what is known for certain, are the specific areas that were covered at great lengths during the conference itself (in 1998).
Main objectives were disciplines for reducing systems costs, adding new capabilities and improving reliability. To identify mission applications and ‘enabling technologies’ for long-term goals. To hold ‘workshops’ for the exchange of information/procedures pertinent to space applications of these/those technologies.
Papers were subsequently submitted (on invitation) by those that attended the conference (many eminent scientists and experts in the fields of micro-technology and or nano-technology) on the following areas:
1. Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) for space applications.
2. Low-power micro-scale devices.
3. Procedures for data processing.
4. Memory types to be deployed or used on devices.
5. Communications standards that would have to be deployed to enable micro-scale devices – and even some nano-scale, to ‘talk’ to remote or ‘standard’ devices such as normal computers, but most importantly, to each other!
6. Applications Specific Integrated Micro-instruments (ASIM’s), of which the building blocks will be nano/micro-nano scale electronics and Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS).
7. The adding-on of ASIM’s to assist or support existing space-systems capabilities.
‘Now this is the good one!’
8. Applications Specific Integrated Micro-instruments (ASIM’s) as the building blocks for micro-scale SPACECRAFT. And it continues…
9. Operational and applications software for ASIM’s.
10. Sensors for space applications.
11. Biomedical applications for human exploration of space (which basically means the idea or concept for physical interaction of nano-scale devices with human operators on space missions; presumably to help combat ailments, viruses, etc).
12. Defining precise manufacturing and packaging platforms and procedures.
13. Software considerations for design, fabrication, administration and general operations.
It is quite obvious that they wanted to take everything into account during this conference. They really, really were serious! There were three days of general presentations and a following one-and-a-half days of practical ‘workshop’ sessions. Those present focussed on specific conceptual and technological considerations, that led to recommendations for implementations in the future.
The actual decisions reached at, or by the end of the conference is probably not known to anyone who was not there, as no information regarding this is mentioned on this website that I looked through (and I still have it – ‘highest bidders please…’). But it can be said that a great deal of something was reached. Unless this whole thing was indeed, yet another pass-the-buck/sponsorship/tax-fiddle stunt… A gravy boat for an unknown inner, inner circle. Who knows?
By pure coincidence, I came across a copy of the ‘Sun’ a few days after reading this article – and in it was a picture of an ANT with a microchip in its’ JAWS! The newspaper was on a table in a Chinese take-away… Initially a scam involving photo-retouching software came to mind, but the article went on to explain that the article was NOT a hoax, but most very, very real indeed.
The ant was of the kind found in the U.K and approx’ 3.5mm long (which are a lot smaller than those found on the European continent (never mind say Africa/South America) that are approx’ 5-6mm long), so how small was the microchip!? At that scale/proportion, it must have been in the region of 1.5×1.5mm Square! The article stated that 100,000+ transistors were on it!! The ‘VLSI’ (very large scale integration) microchip (a prototype at least) was already conceived as early as 1985-86 (although I herd ‘VLSI’ even a few years before that), so I totally accept what this article said and its accompanying photograph. Perhaps this microchip in the ant’s jaws was the first ‘VvLSI’ device (very very large scale integration)?
The small ‘v’ by the way, is because two upper-case V’s look like a ‘W’ side by side…’ Of all the things you end up discovering… The gist of what the article said is as follows – and more than backs-up or makes feasible/credible, this ‘Nano Space-98’ conference. By 2020, micro-scale and nano-scale technology will be as pervasive as current ‘normal’ microchip/computer technology is today. Apparently, the present (at the time of writing this) so-called pinnacle of ICCT (information, computer + communications technology) forged by the ‘old-guard’ of IBM, Intel & Microsoft; will become obsolete.
In 2020 a standard cell-phone will be a ring on your finger. An entire computer system of desktop/notebook capability will be a roll-out/roll-up flexi-screen, or button-hole-microphone sized high-resolution projector connected to a ‘matchbox’ in your pocket. Smart-bugs in your veins will automatically detect infected cells and carpets will be able to change colour and depth of pile! Flying video-drones moving at twenty, thirty, forty miles-an-hour and powered by the sun, will relay video evidence to the authorities (or to corporations…) A whole new industry will have been created worth £100+billion a year. The world hasn’t only just got small, it’s getting even smaller. And as to what this is about to begin with – micro/nano-technology in space; is that outer space or INNER space? And why was there no mention of this conference (and what it implies) to the public at large?