Cargo Gel

Orion's Arm scene :;
Image from Keith Wigdor
Cargo Gel often glows when in transit, as a safety measure

Utility fog based device used for transporting cargo in a wide range of environments from planetary surfaces to interstellar space.

Cargo gel consists of several specialized layers of utility fog optimized for the storage and handling of those relatively rare items that need to actually be physically transported from one location to another instead of being constructed on the spot. Cargo gel foglets are usually larger and more robust than more generalized units, making them ideal for manipulating and supporting macroscale objects, while being significantly less capable in the areas of haptic interfacing and image generation. In many cases, the outmost layer of cargo gel is optimized to operate in the vacuum and radiation of space; although units designed for other environments are also quite common.

When in use, cargo gel may actively flow over the object to be moved, or the object may be placed against it and rapidly absorbed into the gel mass. Once inside the gel, the object is effectively surrounded by a universal handling system and is rapidly moved to a pre-assigned location where it will be stored for the duration of the journey. If necessary, portions of the cargo gel can reconfigure to form or support plumbing or power connections and the object can be even be gently vibrated, turned, or spun if necessary (and as often as necessary) for optimal storage (these last options are usually only employed when transporting some types of live cargo that are not to be placed in stasis for some reason).

The outermost layer of cargo gel can act as a universal interface, allowing everything from data links to propulsion units to be attached to any point on its surface as required. Similarly, access points to the interior of the gel mass (which can easily reconfigure to form internal voids and chambers if required) can be placed at any convenient location and rearranged on a moment’s notice. Cargo gel masses can also change size (within broad limits), either by extending or contracting the arms of the individual foglets that make them up or by splitting off or adding foglets to/from external locations.

Cargo gel units may take the form of spherical or cylindrical bodies that are adjusted for size and clustered together in a configuration that optimizes the rapid loading, unloading, and transfer of cargo between multiple destinations (transapientech versions of the technology employ transfer plane tech to also allow rapid 'on the fly' rearrangement of a cluster, if required). They may be used on ground-to-orbit or intra-orbital launchers, interplanetary or interstellar vessels, or the grapeships and wormhole ferries plying the Nexus. Often all in the course of a single journey.
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Development Notes
Text by Todd Drashner
Initially published on 26 March 2013.