Nanofab/Nanofac Models

Neotek Universal Cornucopia

Often regarded by historians of science and economics to be the first true autofabricator; capable of taking in raw chemical feedstock, outputting a near total range of conventional matter products and performing continual self-repair with nothing more than feedstock and power. For over a century prior to the release of the Cornucopia in 195at miniaturization of manufacturing technology as well as development in generalist rather than specialist machines had continued steadily. The 3D polymer printers of the early 20th century, the small molecule synthesisers of the middle decades and the more recent advances in generally programmable synthetic organisms all considerably improved manufacturing technology while converging towards a size and sophistication that would see them unified in a single product. Neotek's first model Cornucopia was approximately one hundred cubic meters in volume, 12 meters long it resembled a slightly tapered and rounded cuboid, stylized with a woven outer shell. The narrower end (still as tall as the average male adult) was studded with input sockets for power and feedstock. The opposite side was flared, consisting of one large smart matter membrane through which products large and small could be extruded.

The interior of the Cornucopia featured a synergy of radically different manufacturing technologies that Neotek's engineers had managed to delicately balance to complement and maintain each other. Broadly speaking these diverse machines were divided into three categories from tip to flare:

  • Material manufacture: Immediately beyond the feedstock tanks were systems designed to take the simple raw chemicals of the feedstock and assemble a variety of different, often complex chemical structures. Two major technologies were packed into this section to achieve this, chemical synthesisers and synbio vats. The synthesisers consisted of an array of reaction chambers where broad action catalysts allowed for a variety of fundamental chemical reactions. Products in synthesis were pumped from tank to tank until a batch of small molecules were purified in the final chamber. The synbiovats held seven different basic cultures of synthetic organism, each of which had been engineered for minimal genomes (100-200 genes) with simplified metabolisms to allow for easy modification with minor risk of disruption. The different basic types, two of which did not use nucleic acid for genomic material, were designed to operate in radically different environments but could be quickly genmodded into thousands of specialised forms. During manufacturing samples of an appropriate population would be taken, modified, and rapidly cultured in an appropriate tank. Relevant chemicals from either feedstock or the synthesisers would be introduced which the organisms would then convert into a desirable product. The vats and the synthesisers complemented each other and in many builds would swap materials, broadly speaking the synthesisers had a wider range of potential small molecule products whereas the synbio vats were more efficient at assembling larger scale molecular structures. Both would then either package and release their product if complete or, if they were making a part of a larger build, pass it onwards.
  • Component fabricators. The most diverse of the segment the component fabricators consisted of a densely packed mesh of printers, extruders, vapour depositors, atom lasers and many more which could take raw feedstock could take raw feedstock or material products and form them into macroscopic products. Metal ions could be filtered and sintered, forged or simply beaten into shape, polymers printed, electronics etched. Each component could move around to co-locate with another in a "workspace". This allowed for highly efficient cooperation for the production of seamless, multi-material components. As with material manufacture finished components could either be released for consumer use or passed onwards.
  • Product assemblers. An array of modular robotic arms and tool heads the product assemblers took separate components passed up the chain and affixed, welded or otherwise attached them together. Neotek's second Cornucopia model featured a semi-transparent membrane at its front allowing users to watch as thousands of tightly packed arms manipulated and assembled a finished product. The third model reverted this feature after market research showed that users frequently found the process disturbing, one infamous review commented that it was "akin to gazing into the spider filled mouth of a giant crayfish while it ate it in reverse". The forth model reintroduced the transparent membrane with software patches that subtly altered the movements of the robotic arms to seem less like the feeding process of an organism.
Whilst important from a historical context the Neotek was a commercial and technological dead end. Its assembly times varied wildly, sometimes builds of just a few kilos in mass could take many days for the cargo-container sized unit to finish. In addition the efficiency of the self repair protocols was low, not only demanding a constant and significant supply of energy but nonetheless resulting in a failure rate of 50% per ten years. Repair was such a large and ongoing issue that on average more than two thirds of Cornucopia time was dedicated to replacing worn internal components. By the time of the 5th model release in the late 120s the nanoscale collective had released their first commercial fabricator that, while comparable in size, significantly lowered the number of different internal components to improve longevity and efficiency.

ANPO (Atlantis NanoPatent Organization) Nanofac

The ANPO Nanofac is considered an important historic design for a neighbourhood level fab, fully grown they were the size of a small building. Within the interior it could assemble materials in almost any way that baseline minds can imagine, working on dozens of separate builds at any one time. Feedstocks were usually located outside of the fac either in mattercache tanks or provided from utility feeds. The nanofac came with a large library of templates and could have further templates added to its library from the net. Initially ANPO fabs could only read the "RTCAC", "Genetic Build", and "Universal L" template languages, but translator ad-ons for other languages were eventually made available.

The ANPO Nanofac was groundbreaking for being one of the first fabs that could be grown from small seed capsule; some 20 centimeters in diameter and 30 centimeters long planted in suitable ground the seed could grow into full version in just a few megaseconds. The nanofac had extensive self-diagnostic and repair systems and was very reliable if treated properly. They were reputed to be able to run for millennia, though there are few records of models doing so without bulk replacement of degenerated/mutated nanocells. Proper treatment included supplying it with trace matter capsules once a year, and a semi-manual purge to rebuild all the nanoassembly cells from scratch once every decade.

Since production was limited to the interior of the nanofac the fac could not create truly large one-piece items such as space planes. To comply with local safety laws and intellectual property the nanofac also contained a failsafe module that prohibited it from creating any nanofab more capable than itself.

As with many ANPO products the nanofac could only be bought on "lease" which, if not renewed, caused the Nanofac to disassemble itself. Despite the lack of customizability and the high cost the model was popular throughout the First Fed period for its high production rate and reliability.

Pocketboy Pocketfab

The eponymous Pocketboy pocketfab is a palm-sized nanofab with some distinct features. The Pocketboy is a freeware template available across the Known Net (except in polities who prefer greater control of nanofabs).

The classic Pocketboy is sleek and small, a roughly rectangular lozenge. The standard interface is DNI, but the surface may serve as a touch- and sound-sensitive visual display. It is equally usable by the untrained, casual user or the technowiz in love with customization.

The name has become generic, however. There are similarly small pocketfabs that have their roots in the Pocketboy, and pocketfabs with entirely independent origins. (The semi-standardized usage is that a hand-sized nanofab based on the Pocketboy template is a —Pocketboy,— while others are simply —pocketfabs.—). Many independently-developed hand-sized nanofabs were developed as emergency nanofabs for stranded travelers, or as elements of spacesuits, or logical accessories to Encyclopedia Everythingianas, or all of the preceding. These small nanofabs were soon described as —pocketfabs— or —Pocketboys— because of the ubiquity of the original Pocketboy.

While a handheld nanofab is an enormously flexible tool, it has limits. Modosophont nanotechnology generally requires a highly controlled environment, such as the interior of a fab, to operate. A palm-sized fabrication unit is therefore limited in the size of components it can assemble. The palm-sized configuration also limits the volume of matter reserves, and modosophont nano- and microbots are highly limited in their ability to scavenge the surrounding environment for required raw materials. Some Pocketboy designs incorporate (or act as the central manufacturing node of) synsect scale Neumann systems for materials gathering. However, the larger size of these units expands their replication times and resource requirements accordingly. The small volume of a pocketboy limits the number of assembly cells that can be fit within them. Due to this production rates by volume are far slower than larger fabs. This limitation also often requires the pocketboy to re-specialise its assembly components when building disparate component types, further increasing the construction time of complex products. Finally, power is often a limiting issue. The palm-sized unit only has so much volume for collapsed solar arrays, batteries, fuel, or other power systems, and the molecular-level nanofabrication of materials gives no special waiver from the enthalpy of formation of those materials.

Users of the original Pocketboy take these limits to be challenges and seek to build the most complicated, capable products possible within them. (Hand assembly of small components produced by the Pocketboy is often required). They also enjoy customizing the features of their Pocketboys, optimizing power storage, matter reserves, and fabrication volume within the limits of the device—s standard lines (which amounts to 100 cubic centimeters). Many descendants of the original Pocketboy are altered simply to change the volume available within the unit to increase or restrict capacity for those major attributes, producing the common 10 (watch-class), 50, 100 (pocket-class), 250, 425 (Pocketboy Classic class), 500, and 1000 (slate class) cubic centimeter sizes of derivative devices. Balancing the attributes of a Pocketboy (power, matter reserves, nanofab volume) depends on the user's intended location. A user in the heart of civilization can depend on abundant external power (wired and wireless) and matter supplies, and thus will emphasize nanofab volume. A user who does not have external power and matter supplies must compromise nanofab volume for power and matter reserves (and guess correctly as to what elements will be needed in the reserve.)

Other users, though, are not interested in working within the limits of Pocketboy volumes. A traveler stranded on a distant planet would be more interested in food, shelter, and a ride home, items which the original Pocketboy is ill-suited to produce. Instead, emergency pocketfabs are usually intended to rapidly grow in capability, and can duplicate themselves. This is accomplished in several ways. The pocketfab will usually include a folding solar array to quickly expand power capacity beyond that stored within itself, and will focus on two initial tasks: producing resource-gathering synsects and expanding its fabrication volume (Resource-gathering synsects are standard on modotech level emergency pocketfabs). The latter step can be done piecemeal by producing and externally assembling small components of the next nanofabrication chamber. The operator of the pocketfab may need to perform this initial assembly manually, to minimize the distraction to the busy synsects. Other designs are capable of incorporating said components into themselves directly, allowing the pocketfab to grow over time into a larger assembler. Depending on the availability of required resources and power, this Von Neumann expansion process may result in a nanofabrication unit able to build moderate-sized goods within a few weeks.

It is not unusual for a pocketfab (Pocketboy or otherwise) to run into shortcomings in its library. Even Ultimate Chip storage is not infinite, and such chips use a noticeable part of the volume and a large part of a pocketfab—s power supply. An emergency pocketfab will have a library optimized for survival in many environments, and a few designs of vehicles suited to get a traveler home. Emergency pocketfabs tend to spend memory on variants of components that can be made from different materials, as allowed by local resources. On the other hand, a Pocketboy will generally have a broad library of household goods, particularly those suited for entertainment, and will assume few limits on the availability of feedstock. Some users, particularly of a Semperist leaning, compensate for this by downloading more comprehensive libraries into wearable computronium or implants (such as DNIs and nanobones). These "virtual pocketboys" also contain instructions for how a standard pocket boy can grow into larger assemblers, some even contain details for megascale assemblers those these take a long time to grow. Obviously, a Pocketboy in a civilized area may simply access the Known Net for additional designs, and additional computing power (via a broad range of cable or wireless technologies).

One class of pocketfabs that avoid most power and resource issues are those produced by transapients. In particular, transapient nanotechnology is able to work outside a controlled environment and, as allowed by available power and resources, begin immediately building large goods. Transapientech pocketfabs with stores of breedable monopoles, onboard sophont AIs, and design templates sufficient to industrialize an entire solar system have been identified. Such pocketfabs are able to rapidly deploy small, high-intensity power sources, and virtually unlimited scale constructor swarms using locally-acquired materials, and thus rapidly scale-up nanofabrication capacities to almost any degree required.

Genius Loci
Image from Steve Bowers

The Negentropic House Fab

This nanofab is a standard fab in negentropic space. The nanofab is generally 1-2 cubic meters, and is built into a wall of the home. Production rates are around 10kg per hour, however for specifically large items the fab may grow itself to speed up the process. The nanofab contains two ports, one inside and one outside of the house, for creating such items as furniture and vehicles, which are too large to fit in the "closet" interior of the fab. Feedstock is supplied via pipeline from a central processing station in the center of each community, with enough feedstock present in the fab to get it started. The fab can in theory create anything, however every House Fab contains an internal AI which decides the necessity of the item. If the item is deemed unnecessary the item is not produced. The determination of necessity is very much a two-way process as the user of the fab can present arguments to change the AI's mind.

The Negentropic House Fab goes by different names from world to world. On Epistle it is commonly refered to as a Provider, on Santos and many other worlds a Genius Loci, while Herabout (in the Bistar system) call it a Grey Closet.

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Development Notes
Text by Thorbørn Steen
updated by Todd Drashner and Ryan B
Initially published on 11 October 2005.