Re: Draft Paper: Santa's Workshop

From: Justin Corwin (
Date: Sat Apr 06 2002 - 19:56:30 MST

This reminds me a great deal of an in depth interview in OMNI some years
ago(obviously before omni went bellyup(obligitory sadness here).

A man who had the idea for self replicating macroscale robots, whose primary
product would be solar panels, with a chosen environment of a desert,
preferably the interior of a large one. (africa springs to mind).

The robots would use a chemical seperation process to obtain raw materials,
and utilyze the electricity from the solar panels at a net gain, until the
fraction surplus was sufficient, then the robotnetwork would broadcast it's
status, and the entire power output could be used as a marketable resource,
the only investments being design and fielding of the seed robots, and a
large open space (deserts being good for clear skies, hot days, and few

the article went into some detail as to the processes inherent to building
general robots, and the design space required. a few years ago, i remembed
the article(having read it as a child) and realizing the massive import of
it, tried to find it. I've failed. Does anyone out there have an OMNI
archive? is there one somewhere? all online sources are dead and have no
text available. that I am aware of.

Sorry, a little offtopic, but I think the concept is important, and this
person may still be out there working on it.


>From: Dani Eder <>

>Below is a draft of a paper I am developing.
>Comments are welcome.
>Santa's Workshop
>by Dani Eder
>v0.2, 26 March 2002
>An automated factory that can make copies of itself in
>a short (~1 year) time and can switch to making useful
>products would have major implications for mankind's
>future. From a finite input to produce the first
>factory, a growing and infinite stream of products
>could be produced. NASA studied the feasibility of
>such a factory in 1980, but the computer power to run
>it was not available then. It is now. A start is
>made at re-examining the concept and the issues it
>NASA studied the idea of a self-reproducing factory
>over 20 years ago (1) in the context of future space
>missions. In that context, transportation is
>expensive. Therefore it makes sense to send a 'seed
>factory' to a destination such as the Moon or an
>asteroid. The seed makes copies of itself, which then
>continue to reproduce exponentially until you have a
>desired number of factories. They then switch to
>producing whatever product you wanted large quantities
>of in the first place. The estimated computer power
>to run the factory, ~2GB memory and ~30GB storage, was
>way out of reach then, and the concept received no
>further attention. Such computer power is well
>within the reach of desktop PCs today, so it is time
>to reconsider the concept.
>The NASA study was limited in scope in several areas.
>Only factories in space were considered due to NASA's
>area of interest. If such a factory can be built in
>space, it should also be possible to build one on
>Earth. In fact, it should be easier since we already
>know a lot more about designing machines to work here
>on Earth. In addition to ignoring Earthbound
>factories, the factory design in the study merely
>produced copies of itself on the Moon to show the
>feasibility of reproduction. The study did not
>address what useful products the factory would
>eventually make, nor did it address the idea of
>starting with a simplified seed factory that uses a
>subset of the machines and processes that later
>generations of factories could use. The study assumed
>for the sake of analysis production of 100% of it's
>own parts and 100% automated operation. In a real
>world system less than 100% values may make economic
>sense, especially for a factory on Earth. The
>limitations in the original study should be addressed
>by future work.
>The reproduction time of the factory on the Moon was
>estimated at about 1 year. If a reproducing factory
>can be built on Earth, it should have approximately
>the same reproduction time: Less raw sunlight is
>available on Earth for the solar panels producing
>power, but the computer components will likely be
>bought rather made, eliminating the whole electronics
>manufacturing sector of the lunar factory. From an
>economic standpoint, 100% compound growth is a
>phenomenal return rate. After a factory has
>reproduced enough times, mass quantities of goods can
>be produced cheaply, hence the title of this article.
>For example, a seed factory that runs on 100 KW of
>solar panels is allowed to reproduce for 30 years.
>You now have 1 billion factories with a power output
>100,000 GW, roughly 50 times the total electric output
>of the planet today.
>There are a number of additional questions and issues
>that should be addressed in future analysis of this
>(A) Does a self-replicating factory have inherent
>advantages over the industrial complex we have on
>Earth with many specialized but physically distributed
>factories? By co-locating the factory components you
>can cut transportation costs and automate the transfer
>betweeen components. On the other hand you lose the
>benefits of resources (sunlight, ores) that are more
>concentrated in certain locations on Earth than
>(B) Is there a simpler subset of machines and
>processes for the 'seed factory' that can then build
>the rest of the machines in the later generation
>factories? For example, could you start with a
>milling machine, a mobile robot with an assortment of
>hand-tool attachments, a solar panel, and a pile of
>raw stock and proceed to make additional types robots,
>machine tools, etc. What would be the optimal growth
>strategy for such a seed factory?
>(C) What is the optimum fraction of self-replication?
>It may make sense to buy hard-to-make components (like
>computer processors and hard disks) rather than making
>them internally. Even a fully automated factory can
>order parts over the internet and have them delivered
>as needed, and sell and ship products as needed to pay
>for it's purchases. The UPS guy may wonder, however,
>why there are no cars in the parking lot. A related
>issue is how reliable the equipment needs to be vs.
>maintenance overhead and the need to complete >1 set
>of new equipment before the original equipment wears
>out to sustain reproduction and growth.
>(D) What are the economic and social implications of
>fast factory reproduction? If you own the first
>factory, you could end up owning a major fraction of
>the world's economic output. Of course, automation is
>being introduced progressively into non-replicating
>factories too.
>(E) How do you analyze, design, and simulate the
>production process? Like any mass-produced item, the
>factories would benefit in cost from designing it
>once, then producing many copies. Determining the
>optimum amount of effort to spend on design may be a
>challenge. If the factories grow in number faster
>than the discount rate you are using for economic
>analysis, then the present value of the future
>factories is very large.
>(F) Does it make sense start with a partially
>reproducing and/or partially automated factory and
>progressively improve it? How will such an evolving
>system interact with the rest of the world’s economic
>system, which is also evolving towards greater
>(1) Freitas, Robert A. & Gilbreath, William P., eds.
>"Advanced Automation for Space Missions: Proceedings
>of the 1980 NASA/ASEE Summer Study", NASA Conference
>Publication CP-2255, 1982. Available online at:
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