No kidding – the US Navy has put out a small business technology transfer solicitation (or STTR as they acronymize it) for proposals to “Develop a swarm of micro-robotic fabrication machines that will enable the manufacture of new materials and components”. Astonishing!
This topic focuses on a particular approach of using a coordinated and distributed swarm of micro-robots that are capable of handling and manipulating nano- and micron-scale building blocks in the process of synthesizing novel materials and structures. Each micro-robot would perform a specific task, often a single rudimentary task, repeatedly. Collectively, these tasks would be choreographed in purposeful activities for manufacturing. A micro-robot swarm should be able to perform material synthesis and component assembly, concurrently.DoD is requesting that submitters actually develop a proof of concept demonstration of this approach. Three phases are envisioned, including concept proof, complex parallel fabrication demonstration and finally productionizing the technology suitable for commercial use.
While this sounds a lot like a science fiction story, it is quite real and to be expected from DoD. These are the same folks that have driven forward all manner of innovation since the 1950’s and this project is no different. The scary part is that someone might actually build this.