If you want to make some physical goods the first thing you need is some raw materials. You need to get all the raw materials needed to make the item from where it is found to the processing and manufacturing plant. For a simple wooden stool you will need wood and possibly some glue, for a mobile phone you need a whole shopping list of ingredients. The term "raw material" denotes materials in minimally processed or unprocessed in states; e.g., raw latex, crude oil, cotton, coal, raw biomass, iron ore, air, logs, or seawater i.e. "...any product of agriculture, forestry, fishing and any other mineral that is in its natural form or which has undergone the transformation required to prepare it for internationally marketing in substantial volumes." Wikipedia So lets have a look at a few common examples and how we could get them for free now, with current or future technologies. One of the basic building blocks is iron ore. It’s the forth most common element in the earth’s crust and the global production averages at around two billion metric tons of raw ore annually. Most of this is taken from underground, a dangerous environment that has claimed many lives over the years. Mining companies are rolling out autonomous trucks, drills, and trains, which will boost efficiency but also reduce the need for human employees. Technologyreview.com December 28, 2016 At the beginning of the industrial revolution you would have a small army of people labouring away in mines with basic tools like pickaxes and buckets extracting all the iron ore needed. Over the next hundred years new advances in power tools, energy to power them and automation has reduced the amount of people needed per ton of ore extracted. Evolution in transportation has helped ship more of it and by 2016 there were companies looking to fully automated mines. We already have autonomous drills, trucks, trains and the loading or unloading of materials between these stages. It seriously looks like mining will be one of the first fully automated industry in the world. The machinery at the moment is expensive but the savings are huge. Firstly you have 24/7 mining, only with a break in production if one part of the system breaks down. Then you have the reduction in liabilities as no humans on site means no one is going to get hurt or killed. Also, once you have paid back the investment in the equipment, your only costs are fuel and repairs. The electric car revolution at the moment is a bit of a misleading title, it’s really the electrical transportation revolution. Elon Musk recently said that he believes that all vehicles will eventually be electric, with the exception of rockets going into space ironically as he has a rocket business too. In 2017 there was an explosion of electrical transportation innovations with working versions of electric powered cars, vans, trucks, heavy goods vehicles, boats, car ferries and even short range aeroplanes. It really does seem you can power almost anything off electricity these days and the self driving car revolution means all these things can easily be made aware of their local environment. So it’s not too hard to make all the machinery needed to extract iron ore run off electricity and be able to map the environment around them. Which easily opens up the options to drop some mining equipment down a hole that will just do it’s job without any human input. Mines are often quite good places to install renewable energy systems too, whether it be solar, wind or geothermal you usually have large areas at ground level with little or no buildings perfect for wind and solar or deep mines you could tap for geothermal powered electricity. If you can make the whole system run 100% on renewable energy generated on site and running everything with electric motors, you could run the whole system without paying for fuel. You will have to recoup the cost of buying the new electric machinery with automation and sensors, along with the cost of installing the renewable energy capture systems. Once you have done that the only cost will be repairs and replacement parts. The number of people needed on site is close to zero and your only cost is repairs, spare parts or other failures in the system. Science fiction is full of robots that repair things and it seems very likely that one of the big breakthroughs in automation will be when robots can repair any piece of machinery. One of the reasons why mining is so far ahead of the game with autonomous vehicles is because it’s easy to rope off a large area and keep it human free. So if one of the trucks decides to have a bit of a fit and go off the rails then the only thing it’s likely to damage is it’s self or other equipment around it. Likewise it’s likely to be the mining industry that cracks the automated repair droid at some point as robots can go wrong without hurting anyone. Machines used for mining can be as large as a two story house and have huge components far to heavy for humans to tackle without power tools. So it’s not hard to imagine a ‘repair factory on a truck’ type thing that can pull apart one of these heavy bits of equipment, repair what’s wrong and put it all back together again. Especially for the drilling end of production, as automation will allow us to mine deeper than it’s practical to have humans. The last thing you want to do is send a bunch of humans on a 45 minute trip underground to spend hours repairing something with another 45 minute trip up to the surface. What you will want is something already down there that can fix the problem without sending a human there from the surface and a selection of spare parts that may be needed. This is quite doable today, all you would need is a heavy duty self driving platform, which is already in development, fitted with a few robot arms like used on a production line and an AI that can cope with the job, then you have a repair droid. All you would need is a few dedicated versions of these that can unload/load items, transport spare parts, remove broken parts, install new ones, replace batteries or run electrical cables. If you can even get them to repair the renewable energy grid if needed as well, then you have the 100% human free mining process. Automated trucks roll onto a new site. Drop off the machinery, robots and electrical generation equipped. The robots install the electrical systems and start powering everything up. The automated diggers get to work digging down to the resource and start excavating what’s needed. Automated vehicles carry the raw materials back to the automated trucks that ship it off site. Robots repair anything that breaks and computers monitor the whole operation. Ordering new spare parts when running low or solving any problems. No humans needed. Once you have paid off the cost of all this autonomous equipment, energy grid and the robots to maintain them, then your only cost would be the replacement parts. If the raw materials needed for the replacement parts are from a fully automated source then their cost will be cheap, or free, meaning the replacement parts will be cheap. I’ll show later that automation of the rest of the process will reduce the costs of spare parts to zero as well. Competition will quickly drive the whole industry to full automation and probably before most people realise it’s even happening, all raw materials will cost next to nothing to get from where it is to the processing plants. This does not seem to be a case of future dreaming, this seems to be the aim for some companies now and we seem well on our way to getting there. The only things really missing are self driving cars, the total conversion of all the machinery to electrical power, repair robots and generating all needed power by renewable energies on site, most likely with electrical storage somewhere in the mix too. The next time a bit of plant equipment is replaced or a new mine is opened then it will probably be replaced with ‘full automation friendly’ equipment. Obviously some rare materials may still be harder than iron ore to extract and you also have organic raw materials like wood or vegetation that may be a bit more tricky to harvest but given time they will be automated too. Even crops like food is starting to be automated with people developing vertical farms to grow food indoor and crop harvesting robots. We already have combine harvesters that suck up wheat and pump it into a truck. Most of these are GPS controlled these days and soon you will not need humans to drive them. There are also people working on robots that can pick other food we consume from stuff grown on trees to things under the ground. Agriculture is probably one of the other industries that will automate quickly, as there is already a shortage of people who are willing to do the back breaking work to pick crops in developed countries and farmers are looking for any technology that could replace the need for this sort of labour. Ultimately they will be cheaper as well as more productive than humans, then they will replace all the human labour. It does not matter what the raw material you want is, there will be someone out there already trying to automate the process of getting it out of where it is and onto a truck that can transport it to the next stage without any humans needed. So that’s that then everything will be free forever? Not quite, most raw materials are a finite resource on Earth. Just like the problem of there being a finite amount of crude oil, people are starting to talk about things running out or what’s left, or at least the easily accessible stuff, in other raw material markets. Iron ore could be much harder to find in 65 years time and with an increase in production from 24/7 automated mining we could quite quickly start running out of certain rare Earth materials even sooner. This is one of the main reasons why people are starting to look at mining in space. It has already been noted that there are probably huge chunks of rock in space that could contain more resources than we have on Earth. Recently I was watching a talk about space mining where the person highlighted some of the problems. One of the main ones was to keep humans alive in deep space while mining. It would be prohibitively expensive with low gravity, lack of sunlight, growing food, maintaining a bio-sphere, water and a huge list of problems. With a fully automated system we will just transfer this into space with the only cost really being getting these initial machines up into space, then we can process enough raw materials in space to manufacture in space and make stuff off planet. Ultimately it looks likely we will become a multi planetary species and start mining in more places than just on Earth’s surface. This could potentially kick the problem of scarcity into the distant future by discovering sources floating around the Sun that will supply all we need for a very long time. The most efficient way to get these space resources would be if no humans are needed to be involved in the process at any point. Send up a few mining robots, repair robots, solar power, instillation robots, a small processing facility and manufacturing systems into space. Then you can start building the tools you need to mine more, process more and manufacture more in space. Once you have sent out these initial machines you can make the things you need to scale up in space, without any humans involved and then everything else made in space is basically free. So the end goal for 100% free raw materials is full automation in space where the raw materials are sourced off-planet and all the things needed to mine more resources can be made in space with autonomous system. 100% human free. Chapter Three: Processing and manufacturing.