Beyond industry 4.0?

As the liquid crystals align in electric fields, it helps to align the nanotubes — changing the electrical structure of the materials. You can see the thermal output from the material during this “training” process. Bright colors represent localized heating within the material, which the group suspects is due to the formation of new conductive pathways as the material changes or evolves. Credit: Mark K. Massey/Journal of Applied Physics

We are just moving the first step towards Industry 4.0 and as a matter of fact we are still in the process of clearly defining what it is...., and yet in some labs researchers are studying radical different ways to manufacture products.

This is the case of a study carried out jointly by teams at Durham and San Paolo Universities.

In a way they are mimicking what Nature does in "manufacturing" living beings, including ourselves.

In Nature there is a general blueprint provided by genes (that we are still struggling to understand)but a portion of the "end product" is actually self manufactured. Our brain continually reshapes itself based on the stimuli received by the senses, even our joints reshape themselves depending on the way they are being used...

At Durham and Sao Paulo Universities teams of researchers are investigating the possibility of creating self manufacturing chips cased on carbon nanotubes. These are very tiny strings of carbon atoms that we have learnt to manufacture but we are still struggling to find ways to organise them in useful ways. We know that a carbon nanotube can behave as a transistor and we can easily manufacture billions of them at low cost. But the problem of organising them in a useful way has proved hard to solve under the constraints of cost and volume.

Hence, researchers are turning to Nature, exploring the possibility to have the carbon nanotube get self-organised under some external stimulus. In this case they use electrical fields.

Indeed, they have showed that by using the appropriate electrical field it is possibile to create analog computers, a different sort of computer that process signals in a different way from a digital one. It would not help if you want it to make calculations but it works pretty well in fields like image recognition, signal analyses and so on. In some areas it would actually work better than a digital computer (in a way our brain processing is closer to an analog computer than a digital one).

Again, as it goes for most of leading edge research, we are still far from being able to "buy" it. We were quite far from cell phones in the 70ies and now they seem just a normal thing.  We are getting used to the future ... pretty fast!

Author - Roberto Saracco

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