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From United Press International:

DAYTON, Calif., Dec. 20 (UPI) — The U.S. Army awarded a $15 million contract for the development of a new type of lightweight composite armor based on nanotechnology.

The pact awarded to the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) this week will lead to new materials that can be used in vehicles and body armor.

“This is not a ground-level academic study project,” UDRI engineer Brian Rice said. “We are actually working with two Ohio companies to create a product that, if it tests out well, could show up in Iraq next year.”

Armor Holdings and TPI Composites are also involved in the project, which is under the auspices of the Army Research Laboratory. Rice said Dayton would be working with the two companies specifically on an armor package for Humvees and armored vehicles.

UDRI is home to one of the leading ballistics labs in the United States.

Rice said the planned armor “will be even stronger than existing armor, but also lighter, to reduce the top weight of the ‘up-armored’ vehicle.”

He also assured that engineers would be looking into reducing the flammability and flexibility issues inherent in many composite materials as an improvement in body armor.

UDRI said in a statement that the research would also likely lead to advances in protective materials for police and firefighters as well as other civilian applications such as vehicles, rail cars and wind-turbine blades.

There’s a huge difference between “nanotech armor” and “nanomanufactured armor”, the sort of technology we’re looking at here at Lifeboat. Nanomanufactured armor will be made of diamond or fullerenes, and lack any structural flaws, making it many times more durable than anything we have today, whether we like to call it “nanotech” or not.

Over at Accelerating Future, a new interview between Michael Anissimov (a.k.a. me), and Dr. Alan Goldstein, a member of our Scientific Advisory Board who is concerned about the dangers of bionanotechnology. Here is an excerpt from the first part of the interview:

Michael Anissimov: How do you define synthetic biology (A-life)?

Dr. Alan Goldstein: It is crucial to this discussion that people recognize that Synthetic Biology is not the same as Artificial Life. I have spent a great deal of time trying to explain the difference in terms that are understandable to non-technical folks.

It is much more useful, I suggest, to think in terms of life forms:

1. Natural Biological Life forms are those created by evolution without any form of molecular manipulation by Homo sapiens.

2. Recombinant DNA-based biological life forms are still natural insofar as they only use nature’s tools to mix and match biological components, albeit at a much faster rate than can be achieved by evolution. This would include cell biology methods like somatic nuclear transfer and stem cell technology.

3. Synthetic Biology involves the same molecules used to create natural and recombinant DNA-based life forms, but the molecules themselves (DNA, RNA, proteins, the bounding membrane of the synthetic cell, etc.) are made in the laboratory de novo (i.e. from their monomeric precursors).

4. Finally, Nonbiological Life involves the introduction of molecules that have not previously been involved as essential components of living systems here on earth. We need to be very specific here because many ‘esoteric’ elements (e.g. manganese and zinc) are essential co-factors in biological enzymes. Therefore Nonbiological Life (Animats) must be clearly defined as having significant functional units (e.g. molecules) fabricated from nonbiological materials.

The purpose of the Animat Test as presented in the article “I, Nanobot” is to provide an operational method for determining when the human race breaks the Carbon Barrier ™ and creates the first nonbiological life form. I have termed such a life form an Animat (short for Anima materials).

Check out the whole thing. Dr. Goldstein really is a pioneer in a world where scientists would rather keep quiet than alert the public about the serious risks inherent in the technology they are developing.

On, 160 brilliant scientists and thinkers were asked, “what are you optimistic about?” Gregory Cochran, a professor of anthropology at the University of Utah, chose to speak about self-replicating manufacturing:

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread”—it has always been that way.

Most men have been slaves of necessity, while the few who were not lived by exploiting others who were. Although mechanization has eased that burden in the advanced countries, it is still the case for the majority of the human race. Limited resources (mainly fossil fuels), as well as negative consequences of industrialization such as global warming, have made some people question whether American living standards can ever be extended to most of the human race. They’re pessimists, and they’re wrong.

Hardly anyone seems to realize it, but we’re on the threshold of an era of unbelievable abundance. Within a generation—sooner if we want it enough—we will be able to make a self-replicating machine, first seriously suggested by John von Neumann.

Read the rest here. What Cochran slightly misses is that making unlimited weapons is just as easy as making unlimited products using exponential manufacturing. Read my essay on first-stage nanoproducts and nanoweaponry, the type we’d start to see in less than a year if von Neumann’s machines started working.