Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Claytronics: Shape-Shifting Robots

Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University and Intel Research Labs Pittsburgh are just a few years away from bringing to life a futuristic simulation system that can morph nearly any object imagined into another object with different size, shape, color and function.

The building units that make this amazing system possible include tiny micro robots called claytronic atoms, or ‘catoms’, which interact with each other. They behave like atoms in the sense that they become the basic building blocks of the objects they are programmed to form.

Each component becomes part of a computerized network of objects and identifies itself based on function; for example, a catom might see itself as part of a human body. On command, millions, or even billions of catoms working together would fall in place to create, in this case, a replicate of a live person.

With claytronics, matter can be transformed into any shape for any purpose. Furniture could change shape; blank walls could grow doors or windows. Catoms could form into people that we would find difficult to discern from the real person. They would appear as an actual physical being, not a hologram.

DARPA is also developing shape-shifting robots that can flow like mercury through small openings to sneak into caves and bunkers (think the liquefying robot in Terminator2). Another far out dream for this futuristic-thinking organization is programmable skin that could change racial features on command.

However, the biggest advantage in claytronics may lie in communications. People on both ends of a phone call could be copied; and these copies would mimic the exact looks and movements of the person being replicated. At each end of the line, a real person is interacting with a replica. ThinkSkype; but instead of viewing each other on a screen, you can touch, kiss, or hug, as if you are physically together.

No comments: