Swarmtech is the application of robotics to nanotech principles.
Nanotech is used extensively in molecular replicators – large immobile devices designed to replicate thousands of identical objects – often microscopic in scale which are then assembled by more mundate nanorobots into larger devices.
The most advanced example of nanotech encountered by Human Unity lies within the structure of one of their most implacable enemies, an enemy which regards humanity as no more than resources to be consumed. This is the swarm-intelligence known affectionately as The Ant Hill.
Most of the Ant Hill swarm is macrotech: large, modular and easy to spot. Nanotech devices seem only to be used within the structure of individual machines and, in massive concentrations, within the Fabric – the core of the swarm-intellect. The nanomachines act as the neurons and, in some cases, the chemical message analogs in the Ant Hill nervous systems.
Despite fears of nanotech weapons, there were never any useful or even dangerous examples of nanotech deployed in the pre-history of Human Unity. Natural nanotech (bacteria, viruses) have not caused the apocalyptic plagues described by nanotech detractors and fears of a ‘grey goo’ accident turned out to be media hype than actual possibility. There are also limits of molecular nanotech in the time taken to assemble larger objects. As a result, most Human Unity swarmtech deployments are not true nanotech but involve various devices which may be up to a centimetre in length or microscopic in size.
Some examples of swarmtech deployments within Human Unity space.
Also known as ‘Epidermoss’, this is a nanoscale medical application. The moss, when applied to a living organism, will quickly spread out over the surface of the organism, consuming dead matter, dust, repairing scar tissue, grazing on calluses, staunching bleeding and removing any potentially harmful infestations. The nanobots have a half-life of 24 hours and leaves the skin feeling sensitive and soft – it therefore has limited applications in Human Unity agrarian collectives. Epidermoss is not recommended for use more than once a month and during cleaning, the moss structures can be seen to move across the flesh, giving it a piebald pattern. Debris is consumed as ‘fuel’ and excess is formed into keratin-coated ‘beads’ which are attached to the body using a spider-silk-based thread which may simply be picked or brushed off.
When on the frontier, it can be taxing to provide living quarters considering the limited resources available as well as the intention not to contaminate an environment with foreign materials. Assembler Eggs are small globes of swarmtech assemblers which possess very specific programming on the objects to be assembled. To deploy, the Egg is ‘cracked’ by flicking a switch. This creates an opening from which the Assemblers are poured onto a substrate material. While the switch is in the ‘on’ position, it emits a programming signal which instructs the assemblers to create their objects. They do this by creating a micro-fine lattice (fabric) using Frame Assemblers and then Builder Assemblers collect substrate and build the structure of the object. An object like a chair can be built in approximately 20 minutes. Modular building components, sufficient to create a one room shelter take about 3 hours to manufacture (and then can be fitted together by one human in approximately 30 minutes). When the switch is deactivated, Egg assemblers will immediately cease construction and start to clump into a ball which may be placed back into the egg ‘shell’ for re-use. An Human Unity team wishing to create shelters will usually deploy twenty Eggs at once to produce furniture and shelters as quickly as possible.
Assembler Eggs can be re-programmed but this requires a large effort, knowhow and significant equipment. With this equipment, it would also be possible to weaponise this technology.
Smart objects are the ultimate extension of memory plastic. Smart Objects are often stored in a case that is functionally similar to the shell of an Assembler Egg. It controls the shape and movement of the object. In mechanical terms, it regulates a signal which is received by Receptor nodes inside the Smart Object and instructs the object on the shapes to be made. The case is just for convenience and usually contains a shape manifold – a listing of the programmed shapes which the Smart Object may assume. Unlike Assembler Eggs, the Smart Object constructs only one copy of the item, made out of it’s own materials.
A Smart Object is most often a malleable mass of solid material which, when signalled appropriately, assumes a number of pre-programmed shapes. A common use of a smart object is to provide a utility tool which can dynamically reconfigure itself to be a socket, screwdriver, spanner, hammer, saw, jemmy, rope, ball and any of a few dozen other shapes. Complex devices, including those with hinges, are seldom programmed.
The science and engineering required for Utility Fog far outweighs the advantages though it has seen some demonstrations for entertainment purposes. If embedded in Utility Fog and with an appropriate amount of preparation, objects can be made to be created and destroyed, levitate in mid air, change shape dynamically and teleport from place to place. They could be used to scrub the air of impurities and, if breathed, clean the lungs. They can emulate almost anything by the continuous creation and destruction of real objects.
One of the limitations of Swarmtech is simply one of size. The small size of these devices limits their utility. Swarmtech deployments are not going to be quick, they cannot lift heavy objects and have a range limited by their speed. They are limited by the laws of physics and conservation of energy as much as anything else – they require power to run, they cannot make waste materials simply disappear and their activity is detectable (even simply in waste heat). They are, however, incredibly labour saving, can use almost any matter as substrate for their construction and are practically tamper-proof.