This question's main focus is the building aspect of the nanites.


  • No pseudo-science.
  • No handwavium.
  • The backstory is not (that) important.
  • Lame puns ahead, proceed with caution.

Properties of nanites, in general:

Nanites can be considered organic from many perspectives, and are mainly composed of carbon. They utilize many tricks from Earth's nature and powered with induction charge. their size is somewhere around tardigrade's, and are capable of withstanding the same amounts of various environmental hazards as a tardigrade. Most nanites are specialized to the execution of one specific task, but all of them is commanded with a quantum computer.

How they build:

  • A mass extractor mines some ores.
  • The ore gets broken down with the help of plasma torches.
  • Nanobots placed into this newly made substance.
  • The nanobots absorb all the useful stuff from the substance and swell up.
  • Then the nanobots cast into a casing (The casing is a hollow, 3d-printed version of the structure we want to make.) of the where they rearrange themselves, and start to produce a "connective tissue" between each other and shrunk down.
  • After that, the nanobots will remain in the built structure deactivated, and if needed, reawaken and repair it.

What they build:

Tanks, planes, Spaceships, the Deaf Star, pretty much anything that the commander has a plan of.


  • What are the things, that could make them unrealistic?
  • How to improve their building speed?(for the sake of simplicity let's just assume that they don't use any)
  • Improvements in their techniques in general.

Feel free to focus on one question at a time, you don't need to have all the answers, one is more than enough. Thanks!


The Obligatory Instant Robot Army was used, in The First Galactic PWNage Campaign with unprecedented success, crushing the Ork, Dark Eldar, Chaos and Tyrranid armies/forces altogether. This can be accounted to the fact, that the O.I.R.A used common elements such as carbon and dead foes and reinforced them with pure nano-level engineering.These key factors, in the end, created an ever growing army, that fed on your casualties and tears. enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ While this is phrased and organized better than the last question you asked on this topic, on the most basic level it seems the same. Could you clarify why this isn't as opinion-based as the last one? $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Jan 21, 2017 at 17:59
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    $\begingroup$ I think the major problem with Nanobots is how to power them. It will present a real challenge to your no pseudo-science or handwavium requirements. $\endgroup$ Jan 21, 2017 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ Your various questions are already explored in various different Q’s here. You should go over that, and then ask one question in a Q. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jan 21, 2017 at 21:37
  • $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Building capabilities of a realistic nanobot swarm $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Jan 22, 2017 at 1:30
  • $\begingroup$ I would note that when fighting a 'nid army, these nanobots may have rather a lack of building materials, as it would quickly descend into a scramble for biomass, as the 'nids would also be trying to get their hands on the casualties. It's not directly relevant to your question, but it would be interesting to factor into consideration what happens when they are presented with a lack of their fundamental building materials $\endgroup$
    – Arcayn
    Jan 22, 2017 at 8:17

2 Answers 2


Most of what @intrepidhero says is correct, but they've missed enough to make a separate answer worthwhile, I think.

So, as they said, the basic premise of nanorobotics is to manipulate matter down to the molecular and atomic scale. This is something life is already good at and, although we have the perception that life tends to avoid machine-like choices, close to the nanoscale, that changes. For example, our cells are quite often powered by a three-stroke molecular engine powered by ADP/ATP See here for details

So, it's likely that the first true nanomachines are likely to be synthetic life, since it's easier to adapt what we have now to make it do new and interesting stuff than it is to create new stuff on our own.

In all nanomachinery, construction is at the molecular scale and this creates a whole host of problems. For one thing, all nanomachinery is subject to kinetic impacts from Brownian motion, as well as being hit by radiation and other things, which at that scale are more like bullets than anything else.

If you look at an ATP motor in action, you'll see it work jerkily, sometimes going backwards, mainly going in the direction its supposed to go, as it's jerked around and pelted by molecules.

Nanomachinery needs information storage too, for how to build something according to a plan. In our cells, this is provided by DNA. DNA is scarily dense as an information medium. Our genome contains ~800Mb of information per cell. Construction is done through basically flocking behavior (the stuff you get with AI descriptions or birds, for example), with cells and components not necessarily aware what is going on separately from them, while chemical triggers cause certain things to happen (e.g. the sex hormones trigger certain characteristics in humans and these triggers work even after puberty because our cells are keyed to respond).

Because DNA is a molecular encoding system, its massively prone to mutation by Brownian motion and radiation (among other things). Any nanomachinery will suffer the same problem and designs will have to be careful, though DNA is greatly resistant to a lot of change and we have nanomachinery which fixes a lot of errors in our code. There might be other schemes out there which are better/more resistant.

Viruses are not the smallest manipulating parts of matter, they're actually rogue bits of self-replicating code designed to be executed by cells.

You might also want to read about soft condensed matter physics, which gives an example for how, by controlling a couple of variables, you can use soapy particles to make cell walls without much fuss. Also, bioprinting talks about how cells self-organise if you put them together.

All of that being background, to build the kind of structures you're envisioning (and I think I know the computer games you've been playing to have this idea), you've got cell-like structures, with DNA-like molecules in them programming them, laying down metal structures probably one atom at a time, according to some patterns dictated by the change of chemical gradients in the mixture according to a semi-random pattern that mostly creates what you want, powered by some kind of chemical power source.

So, adapting this to answer your question, you'd have a bunch of nano-paste type stuff, which would be the cell-type things, you spread that on your resources, like you've said, you tell a quantum computer what you want and the quantum computer creates the DNA-analogue in a molecular fabricator, which spreads through the paste and enters the cells/machines in the paste like a virus, causing them to activate. A power source produces an ADP/ATP analogue to power the goop which is what gets it going (unless it can get energy from dissolving the resource or some other way).

This goop will probably dissolve the building materials into the paste, at which point, you inject the goop into structures with bits of appropriate new DNA-analogue which contains the building instructions from each part. The cells start to process the new instructions created by the quantum computer and the nutrients are spun onto the structures or (for more complicated bits) into their own shapes. Putting different DNA-analogue stuff into different sections at different times controls the spinning out process and gets you different things.

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    $\begingroup$ Good answer from a biological standpoint of view. And I'm curious which games you meant, I would play too. The answer should be a background to the question or to the possible answer(who asks or answers should know this background). But you failed to address the OP's question. Management is done by quantum computer(whatever that means) and it assumes (indirectly) they do not have a problem of managing each unit individually or simulate the whole system $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jan 22, 2017 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg The games I think they're referencing, where I first met this, were the Total Annihilation/Planetary Annihilation/Supreme Commander family of games. All are RTS games based on nano-construction/fabrication strategies. $\endgroup$
    – aphenine
    Jan 22, 2017 at 17:15
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    $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg Yeah, I did fail to answer the question. I guess I thought my post was long enough and wanted to finish. I'll edit it. $\endgroup$
    – aphenine
    Jan 22, 2017 at 17:16
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg Planetary Annihilation, Warhammer 40k universe in general. But the story is a deconstruction/parody. $\endgroup$ Jan 22, 2017 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ My greatest problem currently is how to make the graphene into a gyroid shape with these techniques. $\endgroup$ Jan 22, 2017 at 18:59

I'm going to take a crack this. I realize this may be a slight different direction than you were thinking but what follows is what I feel is a somewhat realistic idea of how nanobots could work. The promise of nanobots is the idea that they can manipulate matter at the atomic level to build micro structures that affect dramatic changes in the macroscopic properties. Examples of how we do this today (without nanabots) include nanotubes and heat treating steel. I would make your nanobots from organic molecules, mimicking existing animals as much as possible. The only animal anywhere near the right size to manipulate atoms is a virus.

These virus sized robots are introduced to a liquid solution containg dissolved metals and organic molecules, their programming encoded in their DNA, and their "communication" using biological and chemical means. They take energy from the environment in the form of heat and light, raw material from the solution and begin to form micro and macro structures that seem to grow up out of the soup.

  • $\begingroup$ Wat you described can be an explanation of how the Tardigrade-sized nanites create the materials that make up the connective tissue. $\endgroup$ Jan 21, 2017 at 19:54
  • $\begingroup$ The question does not ask for how to build them. Also, to be able to manipulate material at the atomic level the device does not have to be comparable size, tunnel microscope is the proof. And basically it is the problem, we know already how to manipulate some atoms/materials at atomic levels, the only problem is at the moment those devices are bulky, and slow $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jan 21, 2017 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ A viron is not an animal, and it has no metabolism so it doesn’t manipulate atoms. Real cells do manipulate atoms, even large ones. That’s what metabolism is all about. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jan 21, 2017 at 21:34

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