We futurists dream of nano-factories, machines that can build any artifact by assembling it an atom at a time. Since nano-factories could build other nano-factories, we would enter a golden age of prosperity in which objects of almost any design are available inexpensively.
It's a long way off, and some even debate the feasibility of the technology. However, nanotechnology, the technology of things at the nanometer (billionth of a meter) scale, is here already. Think of it as the new plastic.
DuPont has developed a new paint technology based on solid nanoparticles. Most paints contain solvents that evaporate as the paint dries. These solvents are generally not human-friendly. The new "solid paint" is cured not by an evaporating solvent, but by ultraviolet light. The new paint dries in three seconds and does not emit any harmful vapors.
A couple of weeks back, Toshiba announced a new rechargable battery technology that recharges 60 times faster than standard lithium ion batteries. The new battery uses a nano-material to increase the effective surface area of the components inside the battery. Interestingly, the battery can recharge 80% of its capacity in about a minute. For a 3200 mAH (milli-Amp-Hour) battery, that would mean pumping in 150 Amps of current for a minute! About 1.3 Kilowatts at 9V.
I would have liked to see a government project to make the U.S. the leader in nanotechnology. Though funding from public and private sources is on the order of $9 billion, that's not enough to make us especially competitive. Other countries are smart enough to invest in their own futures. We aren't we?