The Microbots of Tau Ceti f


An Elaboration of the Technology in Everett’s Awakening

I think the world is going to be saved by millions of small things.” Pete Seeger

Like a tree dropping many thousands of seeds every fall in expectation that one may sprout, the colonization of space through micro-robots would involve sending out many times more robotic seed pods than might be expected to find fertile ground and germinate. Like plant seeds, each tiny robot must carry all essential information needed to autonomously begin a complex implementation process upon arrival at its targeted destination.

Everett’s Awakening begins as a typical ‘man in a can’ space journey. Everett, an astronaut in an intentionally unexplicated suspended animation, travels to a planet orbiting Tau Ceti. Unbeknownst to him, during his long (3800 year) sleep, his mission was superseded by micro-robotic technology developed a couple hundred years after his departure from Earth. These versatile, cutting-edge biobots were the essential component for getting humans on Tau Ceti f ahead of Everett.

The technology for Everett’s journey remains embedded in speculative science fiction. Yet the nanobots in the story are a projection of ongoing progress in the rapidly developing fields of biotechnology, genetics, artificial intelligence, nano technology and micro-robotic technology. Continuing technological breakthroughs in these burgeoning fields are fully anticipated. Conversely, development of propulsion systems that would allow interstellar space ships relatively short travel times, such as warp drives, has no scientific precedence.

Selectively distributing tiny autonomous robots through space like the seeds in Nature’s model, acknowledges an expected high failure rate for this long range project while placing no living humans at risk. Designing and mass producing interstellar microbots can be funded over many decades to extend the economic and political costs.

Colonization of meso planets is a necessity for the long-term continuance of the human species. Development of colonizing microbot technology may be the only practical (time and cost effective) way to disperse the human genome across the vast distances that separate us from the nearest stars. This essay is an exploration of the technological specifications required of these micro sized space ships that they might become the vanguard of human colonies on planets outside our solar system.

Since this project would, of necessity, introduce earth created organic material, it may be preferable that the target planets have no indigenous organic life. Whether this is the rule or exception for extra solar planets has yet to be determined. Although indigenous organic matter might aid in colonization, our invasive activities would intrude upon the development and evolution of any native life already on the planet. It might also be the case that that native life would prove competitive or even toxic to Earth life and become an impediment to successful human habitation.

Though the expected interstellar velocity (1/10th the speed of light) of the microbots seems lofty, the time scale of this project would still necessarily be multigenerational for those support scientists and technicians working from Earth. However such speeds would promote a much shorter and more practical time scale than propelling living humans and supporting plant life in massive vessels to other star systems. The logistics of sending precursor robots to space, though very complex, is less involved than the long-term maintenance of living life forms in space. Maintaining a functional society and complex environmental support systems for the hundreds (or likely thousands) of years required for a living human voyage would be technically, politically and financially daunting.

The Time Delay Problem and The Twin Colony

The distances to nearby stars is so great that a radio signal sent from Earth to Tau Ceti would take 11.9 years. Getting a response to a signal from Earth would be twice that or 23.8 years. That is a long time to wait to correct a critical condition. Therefore a thorough testing of all systems would be required before deploying any microbots. For most system functions this would be done locally and thus easily monitored. Microbot functions, solar sail construction, antenna and power grid assembly, directional control and general functionality could be pre-tested in Earth, lunar or Martian orbit.

Like in the space program, having access to a working duplicate of every component in the colony would be an effective tool for anticipating and solving problems. Thus the complex tasks of the surface robots could be pre-tested before uploading the AI programs and a continual monitoring of the duplicate colony could be maintained. This would also mean that all the life in the colony, including plants, animals and the humans colonizers would be duplicated on or near Earth. If multiple planetary colonization was occurring, there would need to be clone duplicates of all the colonies.

Planetary surface progress and problems would be difficult to monitor and harder to resolve. For this reason the microbot programming requires artificial intelligence allowing them to take action on problems without direction from Earth. Monitoring this progress would require the establishment of an isolated local twin colony located either on Earth, the back side of the moon or Mars. Constructed as a sealed terrarium, communicating through identical microbot assembled systems and consuming resources closely resembling those of the destination planet, such a colony would need to be started 20 years ahead of the launch of the interstellar microbots. This would provide some time to evaluate the results of the colonization project while creating the opportunity for technicians to modify any problematic instructions before they are transmitted to the extra-solar colony. This colony would necessarily contain identical twins of all the plants, animals, bacteria, insects and humans that would be assembled on the target planet.

MicrobotScanMicrobot Construction

In the story the microbots are of a polyhedron design though not necessarily spherical. An elongated polyhedron shape or other configuration may prove more functional. Every surface will serve a specific function. As mentioned, one leading and one trailing surface will be photo sensitive for guidance between Sol and the destination star. From the eight elongated surfaces, eight panels, which had covered the surfaces, will be deployed and latched at 90 degree angles to the main body for solar energy collection and directional control. The control panels will have two sides. One side will be light emitting (bio-luminescent or LED light) and the other side will be low energy, variable contrast panels such as micro-particle displays (E Ink) to allow changes in the photo absorption and reflectivity of the panel. These panels will include terminals at their outer ends for mechanical and electrical connection to other microbots when forming arrays. The panels will also employ nano motors or bio-mechanical muscles at their pivoting connection point allowing rotation of the panels.

Each microbot will carry a primegenitor seed for bringing life to the destination planet. The resulting bio-machine can have growth, repair, regenerative and reproductive capabilities which cannot be activated until reaching the planet surface where the necessary minerals and energy would be available. Their construction would incorporate a combination of organic and machine design using DNA or a DNA-like mechanism to control production and reproduction of other living or biomechanical organisms. This genetic seed would be contained and sealed inside the microbot for safety during interstellar travel.

Microbots will incorporate no self-contained propulsive means but will be accelerated to a high terminal velocity which will give them the velocity and direction to carry them to their destination. The microbots need to be accurately aimed because they have only limited navigational control in space.

Magnetic Acceleration

These tiny microbots must be of very low mass (1-5 micro grams) to accelerate them to the very high velocities required with a practicable expenditure of energy. Sending larger, higher functioning robots, while making the planetary preparations somewhat easier, would greatly increase the propulsive energy required while greatly extending the travel time. Microbots need to be inexpensive to mass-produce, for like seeds from a tree, an overabundance of them need to be launched (millions to each potential mesoplanet) to allow for expected failures yet assuring that a sufficient number of functioning bio-machines reach their destinations. Hazards include magnetic acceleration, radiation during space travel, degradation over time and thermal stress during atmospheric entry plus subjugation to an alien planet’s surface environments. Once the microbots and launch system are developed, these robotic precursors to humans can be sent to numerous mesoplanets over time as candidate mesoplanets become known to us.

The microbots, as portrayed in the story, are tiny space ships the size of a grain of sand with a polyhedral design. They are accelerated to fractional light speeds in a magnetic accelerator or rail gun and launched in a focused beam toward the target star. The accelerator would necessarily be in Earth orbit or moon based to avoid atmospheric heating of the microbots at the very high exiting speeds (approaching 1/10th the speed of light) necessary for acceptable travel time.

The accelerator could be of a ring design like CERN or a linear accelerator like Lawrence Livermore or Brookhaven. By attaining speeds approaching 1/10th the speed of light, the travel time would be significantly shortened to around 100 years for nearby star systems.

There are two advantages to fractional light speed travel: reaching the destination planet can be appreciated on a human time scale and the designed life span of the bot’s bio-mechanical systems can be limited. This time frame would be short enough that a parent might tell a child of witnessing the launch of the interstellar microbots and expect that that the child could hear the reports of their planetary arrival.

Variable Launch Speeds

To maximize the velocity of the bots and minimize the size and energy requirement of the magnetic accelerator, the bots must be launched individually and in rapid succession. The timing and velocity of the microbots launch will be designed to create a clustering of multiple groups of bots during their travel through interstellar space. It is necessary that these individual bots cluster in space in order that they form arrays. The earliest bot in a cluster will be launched at the slowest speed. The last will be the fastest. And the intermediate bots will launch at velocities proportionately faster and slower relative to their launch position. The different velocities will cause the later bots to catch up with the middle bots and the earliest to launch will be overtaken by the followers until at some point they are all traveling in proximity.

During this clustering, which has a window limited to around 100 years, the faster bots need to be slowing and the slower bots to be accelerating by individual photonic radiation or photon pressure. As they cluster their relative velocities should be approaching parity, and once in proximity they will attach to form mechanical and electrical connections.

Bots Maximize Surface Area

Upon acceleration the microbots will unfurl eight panels from their eight elongated sides, as a flower unfolds its petals. This will increase their exposed surface area and maximize the solar energy collection area as well as the radiant/reflective control surface areas. Aside from panel rotation, the extended panels will be latched into this permanent configuration. Alternate extended panels will terminate with magnetic mechanical mechanisms. Permanent or electro-magnets will aid in attracting the panels to their polar mates, and a mechanical connection will provide a secure physical and electrically conductive connection when required in their later collected arrays. To maximize efficiency and achieve control functions the bots will be required to physically rotate the extended solar, luminous and reflective panels. This can be accomplished though nano motors or bio-mechanical muscular tissue. Bio-muscular actuators can also serve as electrical storage systems as employed by electric eels.


Clusters might contain 10,000 bots for a 100 x 100 array. Hundreds of clusters could be created though special clusters will be necessary for such specific functions as communication antennas and power arrays. Any bots that do not manage or are not needed to form into an array during the interstellar journey will still retain full autonomy. Solitary bots will possess the hardware and programming to navigate land and colonize without arraying. Their individual energy gathering and control ability will allow them to achieve planetary orbit where they might still form arrays, serve as replacement units or land and colonize the planet.

Once physically arrayed the autonomous control of microbot individuals would be relegated to a central control of one or a grouping of redesigned bots. Borrowing again from organized life on Earth these “queen bots”, acting in conjunction, would coordinate control of the individual bots in the array. Instructions for this change in authority may be part of existing programming or administered from Earth.

Magnetic Orientation and Panel Magnetism

In order to attain the initial velocity and direction (inertia), microbot construction requires ferromagnetic property in order to react to the electromagnetic forces of the accelerator. To impart correct spatial orientation upon discharge from the accelerator, the magnetic material should be located asymmetrically in the front of the shell body, for example. This magnetic asymmetry would orient the microbot so that the lead photon detector would be aimed at the destination star and the trailing photon detector would be looking back toward Sol, our sun. This magnetism (or residual magnetism) could also be incorporated to aid in connecting bots into arrays. If extended panel ends are alternately polarized a panel with a positive pole end would be attracted to a negative panel end on another bot. Also discharge from the magnetic field of the accelerator might trigger the deployment of the solar and control panels.

Durability of the Microbots

The bots need to be designed durable enough that the forces of acceleration do not damage them. They require resistance to radiation, as the travel time of 100+ years would subject them to solar and cosmic radiation. The bio-organic components can borrow designs from Earth tardigrades and other extremophilic microbes so that they can be hardened to radiation and remain torpid and preserved during their interplanetary travel. Even in this dormant state the organic progenitors will need to be sealed from liquid evaporation. Their preservation may be aided by the extreme cold of space.

Self Guidance

Although the direction of their travel will largely be determined by the accelerator, microbots will possess limited self guidance, as the ability to make minor course corrections would help assure that a maximum number reach their destination. The extended polyhedron surfaces would incorporate photoelectric cells, variable contrast surfaces and photo emitting (laser LED) surfaces. The leading and trailing solar collection surfaces would not deploy or rotate and would function both for guidance and as solar energy collectors. The leading cell would, once traveling in space, establish orientation toward the destination star while the trailing collector would point toward Sol. Thus a straight line would be established to the target star. Sol initially would be the primary source for energy collection through the trailing photocell and expanded panels. Storage of photonic energy would be important, though severely limited by the low mass of the vehicle. As the microbot nears the destination star, its light would increasingly become the primary source of energy for making the final, critical maneuvers.

At the mid-point between navigational stars, about 50 years into the trip, little photo energy would be available so maneuvering or data transmission would be limited. Some light from background starlight would be available and stored, but not enough to perform extended navigation or communication tasks.

If necessary, a space based laser might be employed to provide additional guidance, energy and communication for the microbots, especially during travel in deep space. Not only would the laser beam indicate the precise direction, but the energy picked up at the trailing photo sensor would supplement the weak ambient light radiation available from distant stars. The laser signal could also be encoded with information and programming through pulses or twists in the light signal which would be received through the trailing light sensors.

Control Surfaces

Surfaces of the expanded polyhedron panels, those not designated for solar collection, would have the ability either to emit light (LED or bio-luminescent) or change color and contrast through liquid crystal or micro particle (E Ink) display surfaces. Either by photonic radiation or photon reflection, photons produce low thrust forces upon the control surfaces of the panels. With limited solar power in deep space, high and low reflectivity on different panels could deflect or absorb background illumination to produce speed and directional changes. In either case, low thrust navigation can be accomplished by emitting, absorbing or reflecting light from different surfaces of the deployed panels. This might be sufficient for clustering and anticipated, minor course corrections considering the low mass of the vehicle and the long travel time involved.

Internal Redirection of Light

As the bots approach their destination star they must navigate away from a direct path to the star and enter an orbit near the elliptical path of the destination planet. With limited mass, and therefore a limited ability to store energy, the incoming light from the primary (nearest) star could be statically redirected (reflected) to specific control surfaces to accomplish corrective navigation control. Internal bio-organic surfaces with adjustable transparency and reflectivity could direct outside light to transparent surfaces on the microbot body. Emitting light asymmetrically would produce an uneven force on the microbot. If the course were correct, equal output from opposing surfaces would produce a net balanced force on the robot producing no change in direction. If a course correction was required, asymmetric radiation would produce a net force to change the direction of travel.

Establishing Arrays in Deep Space

The long travel time would be opportune for the bots to establish agglomerated arrays in deep space. Individual bots could send out a bio-luminescent laser beacon of timed light flashes, much like that of a firefly. Recognizing another beacon pattern with their photo collectors would instruct both bots to move toward each other. Selecting to move toward the brightest beacon pattern, which indicates the closest or largest grouping, would be in their programming. Therefore they would move toward the signal coming from either the nearest bot or the nearest cluster of bots.

All microbot activities in space would seem a slow process according to human time frames. Low thrust photon maneuverability, accomplished with only photon pressure (by lighting surfaces or changing reflectivity) is their only control option. However they have almost two human lifetimes to perform these maneuvers. Once two or more bots are attached, their beacons would become synchronized so their combined light would become brighter and more easily located by other wondering bots.

Traveling Communication Dish in Space

Once collected, arrays could be established for radio or optical communication with Earth during the journey. This need not initially be a physical connection, though physical connections would later need to be established. Instead, a virtual, local communication grouping could interface the traveling bots into a virtual parabolic antenna array. A virtual parabolic dish shape could be accomplished by artificially timing the interconnecting data transmission pulses to simulate a parabolic shape. Communication with Earth would allow reprogramming and mission adjustments as scientific knowledge and data improve.

Future Usefulness of Arrays

Microbot arrays will also be necessary for orbiting and terrestrial radio communication antennae and power arrays. By designating the size of arrays, numerous arrays can be formed. This will later be advantageous as different arrays can be assigned different functions once orbiting the planet. Also it would continue our ‘faith in numbers’ strategy should problems befall any particular arrays. Collection of arrays will continue until the array number and size threshold is achieved for the required orbiting arrays and the arrays destined to land on the planetary surface. Having extra arrays is a precautionary measure to avoid losing essential arrays through an error or accident.

The Social Insect Model

For some arrayed functions, the microbots could incorporate programming designed after social insects. Like bees or ants, this form of interaction may aid with organizing collective activities. They might be designed so a queen (control bot) could become the control center of the array. The microbots’ capacity to inter-communicate with optical or radio signals could coordinate individuals into a single functioning system such as antenna or solar collector arrays, signal amplification and, as with charged coupled devices, photographic camera arrays. Microbot arrays also allow collective programming and memory operations through central control.

Solar Sail Assembly

If the microbots are to be fully autonomous they must have the design functions and programming to individually navigate as a tiny solar sail to the surface of the destination planet. Whether there is an advantage in control by arraying into a larger solar sail is questionable. There will be no net gain in solar sail area by arraying as they will always have the same mass to sail area ratio as individuals. Also if arraying into a landing vehicle improves atmospheric guidance control, it has the disadvantage of losing large numbers of microbots if there is a navigational error.

Some solar sails consisting of agglomerated physical arrays need to be established as the destination star draws neigh. Although mechanical connections between the bots will eventually be required, bots connected through residual magnetism may provide enough attachment for them to act as a physical unit given the very low forces acting upon a solar sail. On approaching the destination star, its light would increasingly become the primary source of energy. Arrayed as a flat surface with their contrast changing panels facing the star, the sail would function both as a brake to slow velocity and as navigation control to direct the orbit around the destination planet. The bots existing variable reflectivity will prove useful in utilizing solar sail capabilities.

By setting all the microbot facing surfaces to maximum reflectivity the solar sail would use the light pressure of the photons emanating from the approaching star to slow the arrays to achieve maximum deceleration. This high reflectivity would slow their approach to establish the correct speed to enter a solar orbit near the orbital path of the destination planet. Adjusting reflectivity across their connected surfaces would create a differential photon pressure so directional control could be achieved. If the control (queen) bot directed a dark surface on half the sail and a light reflective surface on the other, the sail would slowly turn, slowly moving the dark side closer to the light source and the more reflective side away. This would result in a change in the reflective angle of the sun to the sail. This physical re-orientation would cause the reflective angle of the solar rays to change. This angled pressure would slowly change the direction of travel to achieve both necessary velocity reduction and directional control to effect a calculated rendezvous with their destination planet.

Planetary Orbit

Whether employed in solar sail arrays or traveling as solitary individuals, the microbots can gradually adjust their speed and direction to place them in an orbit just inside or outside the orbital path of the target planet. Going a little faster or slower than the planet’s orbital period would not be a concern since either way they would eventually come close enough to the planet to be brought into its gravitational influence. Going faster than the orbit of the host planet, the arrays would eventually overtake it; going slower, the planet would overtake the arrays. The orbit location is most important since as they come near the planet, the microbots need to be drawn into a planetary orbit. Numerous planetary passes may be required to establish a stable orbit and avoid a crash to the surface or a slingshot into space. Through solar sail adjustment, a correct orbital position and velocity must be established that will locate the microbots close enough to the planet to be safely gathered into its gravitational influence.

Orbiting Antenna Arrays

Radio Communication with Earth

Earth is now a very distant invisible point orbiting a visible but diminutive star. For practicality and efficiency there will be two dedicated antenna arrays orbiting the planet: one a larger interstellar parabolic array with an active element aimed at Sol and a smaller parabolic dish for surface communication with the future surface bots on the new planet surface. The larger dish antenna is more effective for receiving distant or weak radio signals. The smaller, geosynchronous antenna, will look at the fixed location where the colony is located on the planet and act as a relay for signals traveling both to and from Earth. Assuming present-day technology, radio signals offer the best method of communication with distant Earth. Local communication between orbiting arrays, arrays on the planetary surface or space to ground arrays may be accomplished with either radio or laser light.

Employing two geosynchronous orbiting antennae will allow both continuous orientation with Sol and constant contact with ground robots located in the planet’s hemisphere. Additionally, the two antennae are required to communicate with each other in order to transmit the signals received from Earth by the larger antenna to the smaller relay antenna that will send the signals to the surface. Conversely, the smaller dish antenna will receive signals from the colony and relay them to the larger dish for transmission to Earth. This necessary interfacing can be achieved through low power radio signals or through bio-organic or laser LED optical signals as the microbots possess both light sensing and light generating capability.

Positioning of the Arrayed Antennae in Orbit

Initially the planet-facing, relay antenna might spend some time orbiting the planet to study the surface for the best landing and colony location. The preferred colony location would then determine the geosynchronous orbit for the relay antenna. The interstellar communication antenna, aimed at Earth, would be located near the geosynchronous orbit of the relay antenna to keep the power requirement for the relayed data to a minimum. Once the interstellar antenna is oriented toward Sol and the relay antenna is oriented toward the surface colony, the orientation would remain stable in space with only infrequent corrections required. Moving only the smaller active element could easily correct minor directional anomalies. Moving the entire antenna would again employ photon emission or reflectivity adjustments. These would have to be coordinated by assigned, central control bots, as they did when arrayed as solar sails.

Power and Transmission Rates

Constant exposure to the Tau Ceti sun light should keep the arrays energized and fully charged, although digital transmission duration and rate would be dependent upon the energy storage available. With the limited power storage capacity of low mass microbots, transmission rates to Earth, which will require the most power, could be so slow that they might be measured in bits/minute. However, long transmission time will be less a limiting factor in the early years when progress on the ground is expected to be very slow. Reception rates can be much higher requiring little power of the receiving antenna.

Power Array

To increase transmission rates, orbiting power arrays of collected microbots can be used to add power to the interstellar (Sol directed) and to the planet directed, relay antennae. This would not only improve outgoing transmission rates but increase transmission wattage facilitating Earth reception. This flat array would be programmed to directly face the nearby star and would function only to collect and store energy for use by the interstellar antenna. Arrayed photocells of the microbots would collect solar power while arrayed batteries (or bio- organic capacitors) would store electrical power through series and parallel connections. A physical (electrically conductive) connection to the active element of the interstellar antenna would also be best for efficient power transmission from the power array. If needed, a separate power array could be created for the smaller relay antenna. Bathed in persistent light from the host star, these arrays would enjoy a continuous, dependable energy supply.

Entangled Communication

Entangled communication would remedy a very troublesome interstellar communication problem, the decades-long time delays between messages. A radio message sent between Earth and Tau Ceti f would require 11.9 years before it was received. The same message sent through quantum entanglement would be instantaneous. It has been demonstrated that entangled communication occurs when one of the quantum properties of an entangled pair is altered (such as spin) and the entangled mate, at another location, then instantly changes to replicate the spin change. For a message to be sent and received each party in the conversation must possess one or more of the mates of separated entangled pairs.

If entangled communication someday becomes practical, particles with quantum entanglement would be part of the luggage the microbots carry. If so, communication from deep space would not only be instantaneous but the exploration and colonization of exo planets would be greatly advanced. Dispensing with the burdensome need for construction of orbiting dish antennae and the ground antenna would be nice, but the most notable advantages of instant communication would be game changing for interstellar exploration. The microbots would require fewer autonomous functions and programming for resolving projected scenarios since corrections or decisions could come in real time. This would encourage microbot designs with less memory and programming capacity and increased sensory feedback. Timely problem resolution during complex operations such as terraforming, habitat construction and the introduction of human life would be most significant. The microbots might also use entangled particles to communicate among themselves although local communication by radio or low energy optical signals would be equally effective.

Using Naturally Entangled Pairs

If entangled particles naturally exist throughout the interstellar medium, we might employ quantum entanglement to communicate over long distances without mechanically separating and storing entangled pairs. Entangled particles might be created from natural sources such as stellar activity, novas, pulsars, black holes or remnants of the big bang. They might be swarming around us at all times.

Communication with naturally entangled pairs might be possible if the sender, using likely candidate particles, alters the natural quantum state (spin, polarity, momentum or position) of a large number of particles with a predetermined, recognizable pattern of changes and time delays. The receiver would sample a large number of the same interstellar particles looking for the predetermined pattern among them. The sample on both ends would need to be large enough to allow that the chance mate of a pair is also among the recipient’s samples.

Durability and Repair of Antennae

Disregarding the possibility of quantum entangled communication, the interstellar communication dish aimed at earth would need to be operational for many decades to maintain communication with generations of Earth stationed technicians. If either antenna is damaged, the other could be repurposed to perform both Earth and planetary communication or spare arrays could be configured to replace failed units. Since replacement bots would be 100 years or more away, redundant, interchangeable components (extra reserve microbots) should be incorporated in these structures to readily replace failed bots.

Once the successful deployment of the dish antenna arrays are completed, Earth communication established, and the planet surface mapped for optimal landing and colonization locations, the remaining orbiting bots could be configured, arrayed and programmed for atmospheric entry and their new functions on the planet’s surface.

Atmospheric Entry – Surface Communication

Atmospheric Entry Velocity

To be a habitable candidate the mesoplanet would require an atmosphere similar to Earth. Uncontrolled entry through a similarly dense atmosphere would generate heat that would be damaging to mechanical, electronic and biological components. For this reason it is important that the orbital velocity be established as low as possible to reduce atmospheric entry speed. Geosynchronous orbits, where the orbiting velocity is matched with the surface rotation, might be best suited for this.

Atmospheric Entry of Individual Bots

Solitary bots in planetary orbit can enter the atmosphere with individual, guided descent. These microbots, having their panels extended, will inherently have a high surface to mass ratio. This will naturally maximize atmospheric drag and slow descent. Like the winged maple seed (samara) the entry speed and frictional heat of atmospheric entry will be greatly reduced if the microbot is capable of dispersing energy through gliding or by auto gyro spinning. Substantially slowed by the deployed panels, the bot’s need for thermal shielding would be minimized. With enough speed reduction the risk of thermal damage to the solar and reflective panels is greatly reduced. These panels, adjusted for the angle of attack by nano motors at their base, can control spinning and gliding while providing limited directional control to a selected landing site. Pre-programmed for selected landing sites, light sensing photo receptors would act as visual components sensing prominent geographic features.

Over time, additional wayward bots may find their way into planetary orbit. These could collect in orbit as reserve components for orbiting arrays, form into glider/parachute arrays or descend to the surface as individuals.

Atmospheric Entry of Arrays

Physically connected arrays might also act as a glider, parachute or landing vehicle. These arrays would also employ control surfaces (deployed panels) for controlled landing. Nano motors at the stem of the panels will rotate these as control surfaces for aerodynamic control of the decent velocity and for influencing the landing location. To be effective, the individual bots in the array must act in coordination in response to central control when adjusting their panels. Unconnected panels would be free to rotate unencumbered where connected panels would need to be synchronized to the rotation of the adjoined microbot.

The control center of the array would require visual mapping capability to locate the predetermined landing area. Since the bots possess light sensing technology, arrayed bots could work in conjunction like charge couple devices in digital cameras to better recognize surface features. Autonomous guidance using surface features has been used on cruise missiles for many decades. Thus, panel adjustments would be coordinated in the array in conjunction with the real time visual data to steer the array toward the predetermined landing area.

Descent arrays must be assembled not only to slow and control atmospheric entry but must also be pre-configured for their primary functions upon the planet. These functions include antenna arrays for communication and surface based power arrays. Arrays must be assembled in space since microbots and microbot arrays, once on the surface, lack mobility.

Establishing Planet Based Communication

On the surface certain arrayed microbots will be pre-configured as a communication base for radio, optical laser or entangled particle communication. This first planetary communication station would not utilize a dish antenna since these must be oriented and the microbot arrays have no terrestrial mobility. Initial surface communication would employ an omni directional antenna that would function without the necessity for physical orientation. Until the microbots create controllable, kinetic life forms they remain non-motile and cannot manipulate themselves or their environment. After establishing a communication link with the geosynchronous relay antenna and sending a status report to Earth, information concerning surface conditions would be relayed for analysis and any adjustments to the microbot programming would be following.

This would be a significant milestone toward colonization of an alien planet. The technicians on Earth now would have an established, responsive, communicating machine on another world. The microbots could begin to send back surface conditions and in turn be reprogrammed for an endless variety of changing functions that would incorporate the latest technological developments. Mobility, however, is of primary importance.

Microbots on Earth 2.0

Microbot Replication – Machines As a Synthetic Life Form

All plants and animals begin as a microscopic single cell and grow into adults. Growing and producing new living cells involves the creation of new genomes. Primitive Earth organisms such as fungi, tube worms, mold, bacteria, diatoms and algae all share the ability to create new DNA from common non-organic minerals given the relative favorable circumstances of climate, water and/or sunlight. This is accomplished in very compact packages, with little energy consumption and under a wide variety of Earth conditions. It has proved to be a robust, very successful method of creating genetic material.

The microbots, though manufactured, would be self-replicating machines in a way analogous to life on Earth. They would have the borrowed ability to reproduce genomes and cells using a synthetic genomic process similar to simple forms of plant life that can reproduce in a non-organic environment of minerals and elements. Referred to as von Newman machines, such a self-replicating ability in these microbots means they can now, in a friendly environment, replicate in any quantity. To prevent an ecophagy, i.e. a runaway all-consuming reproductive frenzy, they will continue to be only semi autonomous, still responding to Earth control. However, merely recreating identical copies of space traveling microbots would do little to advance the goal of getting humans on the planet because the microbots do not possess the necessary characteristics to function and thrive on a planetary surface.


Like living plants on Earth, these bio-machines will also need to incorporate systems that will transform and store energy from available sources like solar electric collection, photosynthesis, chemical reactions or heat. Whatever the energy collection and storage method they possess, it must keep them alive as bio-machines and, at times, be transferable to electrical energy for radio, laser or entangled particle communication with Earth. The proto genetic bot cells introduced to the environment will require a regular supply of energy and minerals in order to grow into functional biobots with the capacity to move.

Microbots Become Amphibious Biobots

The first essential task of the arriving solitary microbots will be to change into a form that will be a mobile, physically adroit machine on the planetary surface. Upon finding a suitable environment the passenger proto genome would divide and grow until it becomes a functional, mobile bio-machine.

The microbots, being immobile on the surface, will not be capable of the locomotion required to locate the necessary minerals to feed the genomic seed that is programmed to construct the biobot. Therefore, upon arrival from space, the microbots will necessarily be aquatic creatures and naturally buoyant. Their intended landing sites will be large bodies of water though proximate to the shoreline where the arrays are targeted to land. Living on the surface of the water will give them access to both solar energy and the moving, dissolved minerals in the water. The sunlight will provide the energy and the dissolved minerals will provide the chemical building blocks for an amphibious biobot. This may entail consecutive generations or a bio-machine capable of a changing morphology such as tadpole to frog. Using organic models, this might be accomplished by the microbot meta-morphing from a chrysalis stage to become a fully functional creature in final form. It might be done through a reproductive process that spawns a separate new creature while leaving the old creature intact.

This proto creature will grow from the genetic instructions in the biogenetic seed carried by the microbot. As with tellurium life, activation of the prime genitor seed can be triggered by the presence of moisture, warmth, light and/or gravity. In begetting this amphibious creature the microbot will be incorporated into the amphibian’s brain. In this way the microbot will be not only be preserved but the microbot will direct the actions of the amphibian. If successful, the beaches of this distant world will eventually be populated by alien bio-mechanical creatures emerging from the ocean to walk upon the land, controlled by unseen humans light years away on another planet.

Motile Terrestrial Biobots

Once upon land this biobot, instructed by its microbot program, can begin important work stabilizing the arrays that descended from orbit and relocating them to more optimum and secure locations. It could search for and collect individual microbots that landed on the dry ground or those that washed to the beach unsuccessful at generating biobots. A solitary microbot can charge in sunlight and send out a low wattage, bioluminescent signal anticipating a nearby mobile biobot might notice and gather it into an established microbot community.

The amphibious bot will be just the first form of working biobots. Production of new, motile, reproducing terrestrial bots is essential to creating the infrastructure for human colonization. Reproduction of the manufactured microbots will likely be impossible. Production of terrestrial bots in a hybrid, organic form would allow the aging space travelers to assume innumerable fresh adaptations, replacing old functions with new parts and terrestrial abilities. These biobots will now be capable of growth into much larger forms with increased mass, previously a detriment for space traveling microbots, now an advantage to terrestrial biobots. These terrestrial bots would be very different. They do not need to endure the acceleration forces required for rapid interstellar travel. They do not need to be designed for radiation shielding, atmospheric braking and heat shielding. They no longer need to be saddled with the programming for interstellar navigation and the construction and operation of the arrayed space antennae. These terrestrial bots would still need to retain communication, networking and reprogramming functions either with a brain imbedded microbot interface or with an endemic, programmable communication system.

These will be the next generation of native born creations on the new planet and will mark the point where robots assume higher, dedicated functions as productive organisms in this new environment. They will possess more mass, surface mobility, manipulative dexterity, visual facility and artificial intelligence while retaining programmed function control. The more efficient dish antenna (previously landed) could now get a secure base constructed of local materials and be aimed at the space based relay antenna for improved communication. Earth based engineers would now control the critical tools to begin the serious work preparing the planet for human habitation.

Component Production of Microbot Hardware

The original microbots may not become altogether redundant. They would become a valuable resource worthy of organized collection by the biobots. If organic reproduction of their LED, laser, photo voltaic, communication or processor hardware is difficult or impossible to reproduce, the original microbots (or their progeny) can serve in the mix with terrestrial robots. Microbots can be utilized for communication, light production, energy collection and optical faculties. Damaged microbots may still possess limited functions which can be utilized in dedicated arrays.

As genetically reprogrammable, bio-genetic machines, microbots could possess the hardware to reproduce themselves or selected, useful components of themselves, given environmental access to the chemicals and the genetic instructions to synthesize the compounds required. Use of such selective function reproduction, for instance reproducing only the photo sensing component of microbots, might provide the needed quantities of components for specific arrayed systems such as memory and microprocessor arrays, video display arrays or charge couple device arrays.

Genome Introduction and Manufacturing

Phased Introduction vs On Board Microbot Genomic Capability

There are two basic approaches to delivering genetic material to the target planet. In the first approach, the microbots would have no genomic capabilities but would carry Earth assembled genetics for growing the terrestrial biobots, terraforming and human genetics. If it proved impractical for the microbots to each carry all the necessary genes in one payload it might require separate genetic payloads in the microbots. This could be done with one integrated mission or in a sequence of waves over time, each phase introducing different genetics. The first phase of microbots to arrive might carry only the genetics for explorer bio-machines. Information the explorer biobots send back to earth would affect the decision whether to proceed or not. If proceeding, the information would influence subsequent designs of bio engineered genes and seeds. Each phase of gene introduction would require about 100 years travel time to reach nearby meso planets, thus extending the mission time and eventual introduction of humans.

In the second approach, which would have a shorter time-line, the microbots would possess the genomic capability to assemble genetic material in situ. They would carry only the genetic material that would develop the explorer biobot. Subsequent genetic material would be sent as data to the microbots for genome assembly. Though technologically more complex it has the advantage of shortening the time required between exploration, terraforming and human introduction and would be constrained by communication time rather than travel time.

Microbot Genomics

One last essential component of the original microbot is reprogrammable genome assembly and deployment. By interfacing the microbot’s bio-engineered memory register with the genome manufacturing mechanism of, for example, simple unicellular plants, the microbot could construct any DNA sequence inside a synthetic proto cell. This machine memory register, arranged as genetic information, will need to mimic or construct DNA sequences within this bio-engineered cell. Once sequenced, this artifical cell would then pseudo divide (cleave) a genetic copy as a diploid cell capable of divisible growth into a plant, animal or bio-machine embryo.

With a large enough memory register, this primogenitor construct could represent the genome of any life form on Earth or any imagined bio-machine. The capacity for storing a complete digital instruction set of organic DNA sequences would likely necessitate interfacing microbot memory into larger memory arrays. Being programmable would provide the means to clear the memory registers and repeat the insertion of other genome sequences into the cleavable proto cell creating a variety of organic and bio-robotic life forms.

Genome synthesis technology can create a nearly endless variety of creations from engineered bio-mechanical machines to humans. Microbots might create copies of their own genetics in combination with other bio-mechanical forms. This could include engineered animal/machine hybrids that have animal mobility with digital machine control. This technology would be essential for production of the terrestrial plants, bacteria, microbioms and animal forms that will terraform the planet in preparation for human occupation.

Machine to Organic Cell Division

Once the genetic information has been stored in the synthesized programmable cell, the cell will be instructed to divide. The new code of the synthetic genome will be (copied) into a living cell to become a viable diploid cell. The original ‘Trojan Horse’ register can then be cleared for reuse while the copied genome, now a reproducible diploid cell, will further divide until it becomes an embryo of an ordinary tellurium organic life form or a bio-mechanical machine. Located in a fostering environment, these living cells would continue the programmed cell reproduction until a living form of the plant, animal or bio-machine was extant.

Shared Genetic Code

Once the robotic systems were in place, engineers from Earth would have an unlimited capacity to implement the genetic production of any Earth life or engineered bio-mechanical life on Earth 2.0 with a time lag of only around 12 years (assuming local star systems). Many sections of these sequences would be repeated in the genomes of other species. Therefore as more genetic sequences are downloaded, more available useful sequences would exist for use in other plant or animal species. Thus the sequencing assembly for the next species could begin before the distinguishing sequences were received from Earth.

Humans share much of their genome sequences with other living organisms. Those commonly shared sequences would be organized and stored for insertion into other genomes saving radio reception and sequence assembly time. Genetic diversity among humans could be quickly created once the first complete human genome was produced since all of the human genetic diversity on Earth can be created by altering only 0.01 percent of the human genome.

Dedicated Function Biobots

With a diversity of living forms available through programmed reproduction, biobots could be created for simple specific functions. Imagine a creature or a collection of creatures designed to sit in the shallows of a large body of water and extract dissolved minerals and compounds. Once collected, these bio-machines could then form the minerals into a single solid, or other useful form as a clam extracts calcium and accumulates it for a shell. They might also be made to extract moisture or chemicals from the atmosphere, in the way plants extract CO2 from air and release O2. This can be done for a variety of elements or minerals, such as iron, magnesium, potassium or silica.

Preparations for Humans

A century or more may be required to establish the necessary vegetative terraforming to support human habitation. All the required natural life must be sequenced from Earth-based genomes, downloaded and reassembled by the microbots and released into the environment to grow and self-reproduce. Necessary animal and human microbiomes for digestion and other functions would also need to be synthesized and produced along with engineered organisms created to synthesize lactose for feeding the first baby mammals including humans. Plants, animals and humans may require re-engineering for that specific planetary environment. Temperature, gravity, atmospheric oxygen or CO2 concentrations could be compensated for by altering the plant or animal structure. Special non-reproductive biobots could be introduced into the system as well. These could be limited to short term use and not replaced once their function was completed. This might include construction bots for making human habitat, animal incubators and nanny bots that would raise the first generations of human children.


Animal protein, carbohydrates and milk (lactose) could be synthesized with simple, genetically engineered unicellular organisms such as algae, fungi or bacteria. These support systems for bio-farm products would be a necessary prerequisite for human introduction. Traditional food sources should also be established before introducing humans. Soybeans, rice and wheat could be introduced. Poultry might be synthesized as a supply for both meat and eggs. Small animals could be self-sustaining in terraformed enclosures. Small animals and insects would also be helpful (if not necessary) in creating a sustainable ecology and a varied food supply. The plants and animals would be selected and genetically modified based on the planet’s climate extremes, soil, water, rainfall, etc.


The habitat must maintain a sustaining, non-lethal climate, by controlling temperature, humidity and air quality. Under ideal planetary conditions the habitat would just be a basic shelter providing protection from extreme or intrusive weather. Otherwise it may require air tight walls and sealed doors with airlocks to minimize atmospheric entry from the outside. Control of oxygen and other gaseous levels may be required. Plants, oxygen producing algae or cyanobacteria, kept in a connected greenhouse, could be employed to produce additional supplementary oxygen and reduce CO2 if required.

Habitat might best be constructed below ground for temperature control. Enclosed spaces could be heated with passive solar collectors, biologic composting or combustion of introduced plant life. Like tellurium housing, easy access to clean water and systems for waste disposal must be incorporated in any design.

Biologic Housing

Traditional assembly of existing local materials or biologic construction can create habitable housing. Robotic construction of stone, rammed earth, adobe or subterranean living space can be underway while instructions for DNA assembly and biobot programming are being exchanged (a ten year travel time each way). Bio-engineered life forms can be grown for construction materials. The direct deposit of expired life forms could slowly form floors and structural walls by culturing bio-engineered microbes, such as silica producing phytoplankton, at the building site. Artificial life forms have already been created that bio-luminese, produce drought and pesticide resistant plants, pharmaceutical drugs and motor fuel.


Incubators need to provide a controlled supportive environment that function to feed and sustain animal embryos as they grow into viable individuals. Incubators would be a bio engineered warm blooded, mammalian animal machine. A dedicated incubator biobot with limited mobility, these biological systems would be created using the microbot’s genetic sequencing technology. If designed as dedicated, single use incubators they would not require vision, dexterity and motility. They would consume and digest food to create the nourishment required for the fetus. They might be designed for a secondary function of lactating to feed the infant mammal though lactose might be more easily synthesized from bacteria.

The first generation of chickens, rabbits or other farm animals would require incubation. Testing and improvements in the incubation process would be performed on the farm animals in preparation for human embryo incubation. Specially created nursing bots would be required to monitor, feed and maintain the incubators and later raise the infants.

Nursing Bots

Once incubation was complete the living infants would continue to need special attention and care. Nursing bots would be high functioning, non-reproductive, biobots created in limited numbers. These hybrid animal/machines must be mobile, dexterous, vocal and possess the sensory perceptions of sight, sound, smell and touch. Facial reactions are important to infants and children so the nanny bots might incorporate an arrayed microbot LED facial screen for mimicking animal or human facial patterns to allow infant imprinting. This would also give the surrogate nannies the ability to imitate emotional responses to the babies’ actions and needs in serve and return responses.

Nanny bots can be programmed to both operate and maintain the incubators and also care for, nurse and raise the first farm animals and human infants. Their programming and ongoing improvements would be downloaded and overseen from Earth over the many decades of terraforming and machine/animal creations. Everything so far has been in preparation for this next event, the sequencing, production and incubation of human zygotes.

Earth Monitoring of Progress

Photo sensing microbots could be arrayed as a charge couple device to scan or record light patterns in a similar way digital cameras record photos or video. These could be mounted in the nurseries and also incorporated in the nannies for vision. These images would be sent back to Earth so technicians could monitor the progress of the colony and the performance of the robots. Without entangled particle communication, the very slow electromagnetic communication time makes any reaction to problems in the nursery ineffective as any baby would be an adult before a response arrived. The nannies would therefore require artificial intelligence in order to react to situations in the nursery. In anticipation of this need, the local twin colony will have tested and evaluated every piece of hardware and software before sending it into interstellar space.

The First Generation

With adequate terraforming, food sources, durable shelters, incubation facilities and nanny care, the human genome can be downloaded, sequenced in diploid form, grown to an embryo and incubated into a human infant. This first generation of babies would be the only ones subjected to the creepy nanny bot. The lack of human adultls may not be as psychologically damaging as expected. These initial babies (the most psychologically vulnerable), incubated as a group, would become aware of the other infants whom they would be able to interact with as they developed. Thus they would hear and see other babies as they developed. They would have real human interactions with human companionship, although limited to infants of an identical age. Therefore the nannies would need to be nurturers, disciplinarians and instructors of morality with the necessary AI programming to punish and reward.

Although the earliest generation of children might develop some unforeseen social and psychological problems resulting from non-human rearing, later generations of babies would have older children and eventually adults to interact with. This would reduce the role of the robots in infant care and feeding and provide natural human bonding during development. Once in their teens, children could become full-time caregivers themselves, helping the nurse bots and learning infant care from instructional videos. These younger generations, exposed to caring adults, would integrate traditional social and family structures, especially with Earth created video, virtual reality, holograms and pictures teaching them about their home planet and its society.

The New Human Genome

Though artificially manufactured, these babies would not be clones but genetically individual, assembled from a wide diversity of human populations to maximize the necessary genetic diversity for later healthy human reproduction. The first babies might be genetically altered to shorten their infancy and reduce their most vulnerable and helpless period, which might prove as challenging for the robots as it can for new Earth parents. This trait need not be continued in later generations. Human genetic engineering might also modify human DNA to minimize psychological mechanisms that are vestigial behaviors of our stone age ancestors, such as selfish aggression, clan mentality and territoriality, producing better adaptability to modern culture and society. This could not only decrease the threat of destructive behavior in the nascent community, but such modifications would also increase the survivability of the human race in the long term by eliminating those primitive survival traits that cause wars, crime and social problems in a modern society.

Video/Virtual Reality Teaching Behavior, Family and Morality

The willful viewing of movies and video is a readily adopted human behavior. In all age groups it is a compellingly attractive activity as if satisfying a basic drive. Assembled microbot display screens, coordinated through social insect models, would be utilized to show videos of mothers, fathers, families and children in social situations instilling a sense of family, community and moral behavior Video would be used to teach language, literacy and occupational skills. As on Earth, enforced estrangement from viewing video would also provide an effective, non-corporeal punishment for anti-social behavior.

Humans, even as children, identify with portrayed characters. Sympathy and empathy with the characters is a natural response. Expressed throughout time in theater, puppetry, novels and now on personal video screens, humans have naturally identified and empathized with characters in stories. Therefore video, holograms and virtual reality might all play a major part in acculturating these isolated children and exposing them to a healthy range of normal human behaviors and experiences.


Nannies would provide the children their first exposure to language. Ambient sounds in the nursery can include other human voices speaking in a common language. Language education, including reading and writing, could be taught through audio and video exposure. Like with Earth children, reading and writing skills could be accomplished through educational shows like children’s programming on PBS. The language might be a simplified derived language much like Esperanto. Like every culture, accents and words unique to their environment would be naturally developed.

Children After Infancy – Social Structure

As the children grow, their interactions will naturally become more complex. Without human oversight, the children will need the robots to fill the role of terrestrial parents by serving as both nurturers and disciplinarians. Once the children reached 5 or 6 years old they could be enlisted to help in maintenance, construction and child care. Video instruction could again prepare them for such tasks. As the children grow older the robots would need to continue to control and police the humans, even into adulthood.

Social organization among the children might begin early. Clubs could be formed with rotating officers and leaders in preparation for adult governance. Additional generations would be continually created with genetic information sent from Earth and more children would be raised at the capacity the nursery will allow. Human incubation would continue until adequate genetic diversity was achieved.

Quantum entangled communication could provide critically opportune responses to child rearing situations. Real time monitoring of infants for medical or behavioral events could be responded to immediately through video and/or robotic intervention. Real time, personal relationships between Earth bound humans and space colony children could be maintained throughout their childhood and adult life using text, voice, social media, video, holography or virtual reality.

Further Uses for the Genetic Sequencer

Once adequate genetic diversity is established, and all useful human genetic traits restored, synthetic human production could cease. The incubators might still serve a purpose as a continuing source for diversity of planetary life, as determined by Earth technicians in conjunction with the planetary inhabitants. Utilizing the established genetic duplication and incubation systems, nearly all tellurium life, terrestrial and aquatic, might eventually be represented on Earth 2.0.


The complexity involved in establishing a human colony on another planet cannot be underestimated. Major advances in bio-engineering and nano technology are the obvious prerequisites to making these tiny, versatile microbots available. However, entangled particle communication may be an equally important development for a successful colonization process. Quantum entangled communication would dispense with the need for antenna assembly either in space or on the ground. Eliminating the twenty plus year response lag to radio messages would greatly enable informed problem resolution and allow real time intervention into technical and human situations.

Robotic preparation for human habitation appears, in the foreseeable future, to be the most viable approach to colonizing planetary systems outside our solar system. Space traveling robots would be the most cost effective, politically acceptable and technologically accessible solution to human interstellar colonization eliminating the risk of sending living humans on a difficult, dangerous, technologically elaborate, multi-generational journey from which they would never return.

Once a productive human society is established on another planet, it would be expected that the inhabitants would someday re-institute a similar program of interstellar expansion. In time these colonies could develop into a network of communities throughout the galaxy. Dispersed locations of humanity assures the continuation of the human race and encourages a diversity of intelligent life in the cosmos.

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On a Lithium Kiss

He walked to the door, his wife following behind him. He turned and they kissed. He knew it would be the last one they would have. He looked back at her again while walking to the car. She smiled and waved looking pretty, framed in the doorway in her bright apron. She was emotionally uninvolved.

At the lab he entered the chamber. The metal tube was a close fit. Just tall enough. He was scrunched in until his naked body became nearly cylindrical. The technicians stood ready and when the room was cleared, the machinery began running until the tube was no longer in this galaxy.

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Auto Autonomous

Buck 1934 wPlymouthA thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men…our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” Herman Melville

The introduction of self-driving cars may transfigure American culture in unsettling ways we have not seen in the last half century. Driving skills are generations deep now in the United States. Learned from our fathers, mothers or other adults, we have naturally adopted the memes of our family, friends and other drivers. Our driving style, now mutli-generational, is an integral part of our American upbringing and reflects not only our personality but even more so our culture. Each human active in a driving society fits into a cultural spectrum with their particular style and habits that earns him some degree of admiration or discredit.

Every national culture has its unique driving personality reflecting a basic nature of that society. It defines appropriate road behavior, reflected in the degree of aggression, tolerance and courtesy. Yelling, gesturing and frequent horn blowing are normal in many Eastern and Middle Eastern cultures. While I was riding in a taxi in Vietnam, the driver glanced a cyclist knocking him to the pavement. The reaction of the driver was to laugh while continuing on his way and checking out the cyclist in the rear view mirror. I was appalled.

We constantly evaluate other drivers by comparing our ‘superior’ abilities to their shortcomings. “Jersey driver” was a common criticism of irregular or discourteous drivers in Pennsylvania regardless of the state shown on the car’s license plate. Our individual driving style changes to reflect our state of mind. We hurry by driving fast and running yellow lights or cruise leasurly enjoying the music on the sound system while taking in the scenery. We feel the road, the cross wind blowing, choose when to dim our headlights or use turn signals. Driving, like more obvious social activities, involves us in consequential experience and community.

Every day millions of us command deadly weapons that are as potent as any gun. During our routine commute we generally exercise our conditioned discipline to respect the lives and property of others. We give way to bicycles and pedestrians. We signal our intent or turn or change lanes to avoid killing unknown innocents and ourselves. It is a subconscious reality in our lives, a prime directive we accept that shapes our cultural personality both behind the wheel and in broader social contexts. In the Woody Allen movie Annie Hall, a favorite scene of mine has a boyish Christoprher Walken telling Woody about his dark fantasy of driving at night and intentionally steering his car into oncoming headlights. This is a choice he knows he has but one that he has never acted upon. He has an unsettling need to affirm this power and by not acting on this fantasy he acknowledges his desire to continue living in this physical world.

Though routine and almost unknowingly, everyday we make hundreds of decisions through a maze of roads and traffic signals to get to our workplaces and to again return to our homes. Every turn is a choice that we can make or not. Watching the road, avoiding obstacles and potholes, tree limbs or dead animals makes us participants in a larger world. Somewhere in our minds we must know that at any moment we can choose to not make that turn, to break out of the pack and drive toward the horizon to a new place and maybe a new life. Our automobiles serve both as the tumbrel to our daily grind and our cruise ship of escape. It is a tool of dull necessity and a means to discovery and pleasurable distraction.

Driving puts us in a community of shared cultural values, expectations and manners. It was once common for drivers to flash their headlights at oncoming drivers to warn them they were approaching a police radar trap. We likewise would be criticized if we failed to demonstrate the courtesy or skills expected. We acknowledge all cars on the road with the same prerogative, rightfully having equal access. We yield to the first arrival at stop sign intersections, regardless of the race or gender of the driver, age, cost or condition of the vehicle. We understand and accept that these rules are best for us all. Driving has become the practiced egalitarianism intended by our founding fathers. “All cars are created equal.” In Russia the wealthy in their expensive cars will fragrantly hog the road and ignore speed restrictions and traffic signals.

Routinely wielding such high tech weapons of horsepower and mass gives us real authority in our media-driven world that increasingly tends to control our thoughts and actions. If we are shuttled to work in an autonomous machine, we will be less a participant, less an individual in our community and less active in making choices and exercising control in our lives. The feeling of being unacknowledged cogs in the great gears of civilization will be further promoted. Though the stress and drudge of commuting will be automated, we may ultimately feel less significant.

To give up this community, this cultural personality, this routine daily accomplishment, could be disastrous to the American psyche. We will be physically safer on the road. We may feel freer having that time to read, watch videos or imbibe in drink and drugs. Becoming solitary passive passengers will create more isolation and less community than even a bus or train ride provides. This could increase national malaise and feelings of helplessness leading to increased despondency or depression. We may find ourselves requiring yet more self-medication as robotic driving will make us more isolated and psychologically vulnerable.

Owning a gun gives some, no doubt, an exaggerated feeling of empowerment. Might driving a car or pickup truck as well give a similar sense of control? I am not a Luddite. I do not wish to stop technological progress. I only believe we should think about the consequences of such change and how we might culturally adapt to this new environment. Yet I expect we will happily and unwittingly give up this therapeutic sense of community, identity and control and rather believe that a life of unfettered ease best fulfills us.

Yet maybe this all matters little anymore. Maybe the age of the automobile is already ended. Maybe the automobile has already reached the utilitarian regard of a washing machine. Supplanted by the smartphone, maybe our significant community now lives in ‘the cloud’ and our individuality is realized and satisfactorily expressed through digital social media and customized apps. But how egalitarian is cyberspace? What are our responsibilities in that community? How does that on-line etiquette shape our broader culture?

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I watch at my kitchen window
the feet and pale bellies of numerous moths 
on the window screen

These have come from the night
to be mesmerized by my fluorescent light
as I wash the dishes.

What addictive magic is in the light
that can so hold their attention 
while a substantial part of their short lives passes?

What might other moths be doing now,
the successful moths, the Bill Gates moths? 
Building cocoons, reproducing, eating?

Might these wastrels squander their courtship and childbearing hours 
unwittingly eliminating this proclivity from their collective genes
sparing future generations this hapless fate?

With the dishes finished I leave these questions unanswered
and retire to the living room for my TV time until bed.
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Photo-Lisa DalyHaving washed the dishes of my evening meal
In the sink an ant I notice
Attempting to scale the cliffs of steel 
His efforts without progress 

Gaining not in his attempts
He rested his body segmented
Best efforts thwarted he was spent
Like mine his ambition frustrated   

The dishes stored, my chores complete 
I draped for him my towel
Furnished a ready path replete
Unaware, he waited now

He stirred not, as yet faint hearted
Immobilized by his mind empirical 
“Your Red Sea you'll find is parted
Soon shall ye know true miracle.” 

Once embarked with ease he climbed
From out his watery tomb
I know not what his mind surmised  
His solace I assume

From out despair to kind deliverance
His mandibles mouthed a prayer
I answered “To your kin acclaim this God of Ants
And I shall keep them in my care”
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The Nature of Nature

Lisa Daly

Lisa Daly

They drove along Route 17. Once there were the three. They hadn’t seen each other for years. There was a casual estrangement. The funeral brought the two together. It made sense to share the ride. There wasn’t much talk. A bit of expected political commentary. How this president is undoing all the good that Obama did for the country. How he is isolating us from the rest of the world with his belligerence and militarism and ‘defense of capitalism’. There was a stretch where the highway ran next to the river.

“Remember we used to swim in that river.”

“Yes we did.” he recalled not really quite believing it. It seemed a dream today.

“Not along here, further south away from the road.” Her voice was still deep and gravelly. His face was covered with a grandfatherly white beard.

It was about the job then. They were welfare workers. Both wanted to help the poor. But the bureaucracy vacuumed up their hours and days and energy. Doing good for humanity was lost to incomprehensible regulations, endless paperwork and self-serving bosses. Swimming after work was a necessary relief they found that year.

“It was your idea I think. We would wade to where it was deep enough to sit on the bottom with the water up to our necks. And we would sit there suspended, weightless and talk until dark about life and ideas and dreams.” She smoked cigarettes and was a Buddhist and he was nothing. A Christian molting his beliefs. “You had a child from a previous something.”

“He is grown now and living in Washington” Romantically inharmonious they were stuck in contiguous professional situations both found mutually untenable. He had a girlfriend in Lewisberg.

“Are you still practicing Buddhism?”

“Yes I have a shrine in my house. Are you still with Susan?”

“No that did not last long after that. I still have that coconut with the ugly face that you made for me. It is in a box in the attic. I never liked women who smoked.”

“It was more than that”.

“Yes it was, I suppose.”

“You were out of the army. I never understood how someone could be a soldier. There was no physical attraction, but we were still close for a time.” The end of that summer was when he quit with the state and went back to school.

“I want to sit next to you now and pull you close for the ride. But these seats. Car engineers design seats now to keep people apart. They can make an autonomous car and companion cup holders but they won’t let people to sit together in the front seat. We buckle ourselves in to be safe but can’t be close like in the old movies. If I could only be a coffee cup I would sit close to you now.”

“I have always liked coffee”

Ahead the road changed to a commercial stretch of chain stores and fast food. The river had left the roadside. It meandered off through some green field or wood. A quick visit to the highway was enough for it. It realized it belonged somewhere else. It was the nature of nature. She had never liked men with beards.

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Dubious Nirvana

PhuBai 36s

I went back and did it again this time trying to remember for the record – we, traveling near the big construction machines with the boy, my friend egging on the salesman and ….

It is dangerous enough being a soldier in a war zone yet we spent nearly everyday stoned. Maybe it is a way to defy death while trying to live fully in uncertain circumstance. The war is denied. The outcome is meaningless to us anyway. Our own futures do not exist, so the moment is everything.

We are children of wealth and privilege on a two day pass tramping heedlessly through an ancient culture steeped in traditions and sacred practice. Unaware, we dance our comic, insensible dance of the naiveté. But only on the surface leaving nothing lasting behind. Even the enemy soldiers must have wondered at our foolishness. On this particular day we wander in this insular fog of inbred consumer culture and chemicals, exploring the neighborhood of a rural Asian town where we seek temporary distraction, as a child might with a new toy. Though we wear the fatigue uniforms of the latest occupying army, we carry no weapons (only officers are issued sidearms).

Construction machines are working in the block where a Burger King is today. Then it was a large muddy lot with soot belching machinery and construction laborers moving around in ways we could not comprehend. I want to take pictures for a friend back at home but I have forgotten my camera. We decide to walk to a nearby motor pool garage. My friend, Dean, knew someone there who he wanted to see. We push aside the large doors. Inside it is a geometric cave, high ceilinged, empty. Not just one large empty space but rooms all connected, without a trace of human occupation. Inviting exploration I want to go inside and see more, but Dean, not finding his friend, wants to leave. I think of taking a picture but I have forgotten my camera. Outside we see a woman washing clothes near the street corner. She is bent over a tub scrubbing. She does not speak to us or even pauses in her work to look at us. But her young son seems captivated by our foreign presence.

I failed to pay her any attention the first time. She is so ordinary and drab, her black peasant pants and buttoned white shirt, straight black hair pulled back and tied. But I am here this time just to notice and remember more, so I carefully study her face in profile as she works. I take a few mental photos. In the medium shot she appears fatigued and worn but in the closeup I discern the pores in her skin, her complexion is soft, feminine. Both conditions being equally present yet moving in opposite directions like slow trains of time passing on parallel tracks. The boy addresses her and they talk briefly. She apparently acquiesces to his request, allowing him to follow along with us. I like to believe that though a common language is lacking, she perceives our guileless and agreeable stoner demeanor and finds us harmless, though unconventional companions for the boy.

There is a lightly forested public square beyond the construction site. We leave the street corner and skirt the park, the boy tagging along. The three of us wander around this peaceful public space. The boy in tan shorts is shirtless and shoeless. His exposed skin is tanned deep brown and his hair is cut close. At times he walks apart from us bouncing a flimsy stick on the ground. We both like him and agree that he is cool, somehow charmed and special. He is mostly just a kid though, with his kid distractions and capricious variability. So there seems about him an air of vulnerability. I suppose this is universal about children but I realize some risk is necessary to allow him (or any boy) to fulfill his potential.

A local man approaches us and converses in very good English. He is dressed in western clothes like a salesman back home would wear. Shirt, tie and jacket, but ill fit, worn and a bit too large on his skinny body. He carries a briefcase. He speaks enthusiastically about an American movie he had seen called Johnny Guitar. Dean keeps asking him if he can get us drugs and he repeatedly denies it. Instead he talks about this movie which he thinks we surely have seen. I doubt that this movie is real. Finally we are ready to go and he opens his briefcase. It is full of glass jars each containing a selection of black market drugs. Dean is immediately drawn to the largest jar holding pink marshmallow like balls slowly floating inside. The man tries to dissuade him but Dean is insistent and finally the man relents and sells him one.

With the transaction complete, we begin down a twin pathed dirt road heading away from town. Dean is a few paces ahead of me and the boy. I notice a pink cloud rising above Dean’s head. It spreads until its vapor looks like a wordless comic strip balloon. With a display of great competence, Dean turns his face skyward and magically inhales the cloud into his mouth, just like a movie running backward. It is an impressive display of his talent and competence involving drug consumption. He has shown similar aptitude before, as if he possesses an innate working proficiency around recreational substances no matter how unique or exotic. He always is a natural master when recreational drugs are involved.

Dean is soon excessively happy and energized. It seems as if this is the first time he has known joy. We walk until we find an old chiseled granite block just off the roadway and Dean climbs on top of it and sits lotus style while talking in happy incomprehensible gibberish. “Call me The Buddha.” is one phrase I understand. While talking he fidgets with his lighter, flicking it open and closed, until he lights it as if he is going to fire off a joint but he has nothing there to light. Instead he holds the flame near his mouth and moves the lighter back and forth. He continues smiling while the flame curls around his upper lip. I panic thinking he is surely burning himself but he gives no indication of pain. I look to see if his lip is swelling but I cannot see anything. It seems he is proving to us his attainment of some higher level of existence and his no longer being in our physical world.

Whatever Dean is doing I know I can watch this display no more. I must have flagged down a ride for I remember being on the back of a motorcycle. It is just become night and the driver stops along this rural road to rest and he lays the bike on it’s side. We are far away from any traffic, artificial light or noise. The driver lights a cigarette, squats near the front of his reclined motorcycle and smokes silently. I just now notice that this is an unusually long motorcycle, almost twice the length of a normal bike. Old and beat, painted black where it is not chipped, dented or rusted. It may be a French Automoto. Though I have a curiosity about this detail and I have no intention of returning to find out.

When he finishes his cigarette I ask to drive. It is dark now. He is doubtful but conciliatory about it, though showing concern about my cycling skills. I go to lift the bike and find it is heavier then I had expected. I feel awkward and out of practice but once going I can adequately manage the machine. The headlight proves quite inadequate giving very poor illumination ahead. Yet I am able to adapt, at least psychologically, to this lack of forward vision which demands endless compensatory adjustment to passed events. Moving forward into darkness impels a necessary attitude of optimism and self confidence. I find that as this technique is successfully gained it produces a thrilling compulsion to go even faster.

Upon my return from that initial deployment, I had consciously decided to isolate that experience from the rest of my life. Though I have been home for many years, I am still not insulated from that time and place. Like the first, these subsequent hypnopompic visits are not of my control, though they have been arriving with less frequency. Another like this may be my final excursion. If so, I will try and take good notes and maybe remember my camera.

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