Until the end of the 20th century, nano–, from the Greek, “nanus”, meaning dwarf, prefixed unit measurements to indicate one billionth or 10-9, e.g. nanosecond or nanometer. With the development of new technologies from many scientific disciplines, nano– came to be used to indicate extreme smallness.
The term "nanotechnology," was defined in 1974 by a Tokyo Science University professor as, “the processing of… materials by one atom or by one molecule." This definition referred to concepts introduced in a talk given by physicist and chemist Richard Feynman in 1959 entitled "There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom" in which he described “a process by which the ability to manipulate individual atoms and molecules might be developed, using one set of precise tools to build and operate another proportionally smaller set, so on down to the needed scale.”
Recently, ‘nano’ has also become a noun denoting a brand of virtual pets, a star communications officer in the ‘Star Trek’ universe, a C++ framework for developing Mac OS X applications, a type of iPod, and—to finally cement it into 21st century vocabulary—as of January 10th, 2008 the world’s cheapest car—at US$2,500—developed by Tata Motors of India.
It looks like Nano is the right name for a tiny car. It speaks to its size in a positive way: “seats five, with baggage for one,” a two-cylinder gasoline, 625 cc, 33 bhp engine built by the German firm Bosch, which also supplied the braking systems and part of the electrics for the diesel and gasoline versions; 20 km/l with a top speed of 105 kmh; four-speed manual transmission (—for now— with CVT to come); a sheet metal and plastic body without welding; wheel bearings durable to 72 kmh; basic instrumentation including an analog speedometer, odometer and fuel gauge; hand wind windows; a single windshield wiper; no power steering, emissions control, anti-lock brakes, air bags or safety beams. A radio and air conditioning are optional extras.
The Nano car speaks to Professors Feynman’s “plenty-of-room-at-the-bottom” concept. ‘High tech’ engineering is behind this phenomenon, combined with, as one observer puts it, “one of the best, yet least heralded virtues of Indian industry—its ability to expand the market “downward” to the popular sector hitherto excluded from the forces of supply and demand.”
It speaks to a potentially better future for millions in India and in the markets that Tata is targeting: Africa, Asia and Latin America. It also speaks to the increasingly conflicted relationship between humans and their cars in the western world. While some people may be concerned about the social and road safety impact of a million new Nanos per year, Tata is focusing on the advantages to those who must otherwise rely on motor scooters.
In the west we love our cars. It is pretty tough for us to argue against the benefits of car ownership for people of the emerging economies. We know we have to become less reliant on motor vehicles and we foresee the same dilemma for those only wanting, as we did, to better our lot.
For more on this development, see: www.tatanano.com