Nanotech Gadgets smaller, faster, cheaper

Nanotechnology promises to revolutionize the next generation of gadgets-and almost everything else

A supercomputer that fits in your palm, a lethal weapon the size of your hair and a factory in your home. These are just some of the promises that nanotechnology offers, maybe in this century itself. But first what is nanotechnology? The term comes from nanometer (nm), which is one millionth of a millimeter. A strand of hair from your head would be a super giant in that region. So nanotechnology deals in the nanometer scale, which usually is 0.1 to 100 nm.

That means all the products created with this technology will be smaller, more compact, more efficient, cheaper, use less resources… the list is almost endless.

The concept of nanotechnology first came in a talk given by physicist Richard Feynman in the famous 1959 “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” talk. He then talked of manipulating atoms to create a powerful form of chemistry to create “massively parallel operations”.

But much of the promise of nanotechnology is in the distant future. Let’s talk of 2005 and see what products have already come out using this new technology.

These are by no means the first generation of “nano products”, products sized in the nano scale. These are merely nanotechnology-enhanced products. We are still years (maybe decades) away from making a cellphone for an ant, as the HP ad puts it.

A screen in your goggles

The Teleglass is a tiny 0.24-inch screen that you can fit on top of your goggles. These videoglasses use AMLCD (active matrix liquid crystal display) technology. You can connect the tiny screen to your mobile, digicam or portable DVD player and watch movies and videoclips. Clip it on one lens and you can leave the other clear, so you can walk or do you work normally while watching a film.

Nano air to warm your soles

Wouldn’t it be great to have warm insulating soles in your shoes when the going gets really cold? Most insulation requires a layer of air to warm you, which gets compressed if you step on it, rendering it ineffective. ToastyFeet from Polar Wrap uses “aerogel” which are nano-sized pockets of air, which work even if you step on them. And if you can always keep your feet warm, then it greatly reduces the chances of getting a cold.,,

Gaming’s virtual reality

The CyberMan GVD510-3D is a stereoscopic head-mounted display (HMD) that gives gamers a taste of virtual reality. It’s a tiny ultra-low power 640 x 480 VGA-resolution microdisplay. There are 921,600 color dots in a 0.44-inch-screen capable of 16.7 million colors. The makers claim that once you put it on, it’s as good as a 40-inch screen placed at a distance of 7 feet.

Straighter flight for golf balls

Golf balls were one of the first products to use nanotechnology. NanoDynamics has introduced the next generation of golf balls with NDMX technology that ensures a straighter flight for the golf ball. This hollow metal ball reduces the “hook” and “slice” of a golf ball and optimizes energy transfer from the golf club head to the ball.

Dirty no more

Nano-tex developed a spill-resistant fabric using nanotechnology. Arvind Mills and Arrow shirts are some of the beneficiaries of this technology. If you drop tea on a nano-tex pant, then the drops just roll off your fabric. Nano-tex has also come out with fabrics that repel and release stains, resist static and give cool comfort.

Merc gets a coat of nano

Mercedes Benz has gone in for nano-particle clearcoat paint that’s glossier and more scratch-resistant than regular paints. There is a layer of clear lacquer above the paint, which has extremely small ceramic particles that form a protective network all over. The paint came out after four years of research and is expected to have an increased life over other paints by many years.

The first nano

In the eighties, IBM manipulated Xenon atoms for the first time to spell out their logo. Each letter is 5nm long.

Nano nano nano…

Nanotechnology: Technology that deals in the nanometer scale, which usually is 0.1 to 100 nanometer. (Note one nanometer is one millionth of a millimeter)
Nanowire: A nanometer wire that will be very handy in making ultra-small circuits in ultra-small products.
Nanobotics: The science of designing and building nanorobots
Nanoknot: Nanoropes that can be tied
Nanolithography: Printing at the nano scale
Nanomotor: A molecular device that will be able to convert energy into movement

Trouble with goos

While a lot of people oppose nanotechnology citing that it could lead to the creation of incredibly small weapons easy to hide and use. Others have predicted the emergence of a “gray goo”, created by “self-replicating nanobots running amok”. How would you control millions of nano robots that can create billions of others. Then there’s “green goo” where a self-replicating nano machine would would consume all organic particles, creating a green non-living organic mass.

Carbon nanotubes, which are nothing but cylindrical carbon molecules, will form the building blocks of many nano products of the future. Right now they are being used to build newer and better screens, fuels cells for mobiles and the like.

(This article appeared in the February 2006 issue of Living Digital magazine)

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