The Claytronics project is an ambitious robotics project undertaken by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and The Intel Corporation.1 The project has the ultimate aim of devising a framework where individual modular components, governed by intelligent software, interrelate with each other effectively and meaningfully. For instance, an average Claytronics project could have 10 completely individual electronic cubes on a table. These electronic cubes would be governed by software that branches across all of the 10 electronic cubes. Think of the software as a governing force that governs the movements of all of these individual cubes. Now, let’s assume that we pass an instruction to the governing body through a programming language. The instruction could be anything.
For simplicity, let’s say we instruct the software to form a circle. Once the instruction is given, these individual cubes will intelligently interlink with each other to form a circle. The applications need not be trivial in nature, it could also be something as interesting as forming into the shape of a spider that is aware of its environment and moves accordingly, and that spider could later convert into a snake that slithers across the surface. All that would be required to achieve this feat, would be more electronic modules and a specifically coded instructions sent to the software.
What are catoms
Catoms are Claytronic atoms. They are the modular pieces of hardware that communicate with each other to perform intelligent tasks. These catoms communicate with each other using software, and interlink with each other using electromagnetic attraction. According to the university, a catom has a size of of under one millimeter.
Types of catoms
Catoms designed by researchers vary in size. Some ranging from just under a millimeter in size, to over 8 cubic meters. These catoms serve different functions, but mostly function under the same governing rules.
The cube catom has a size of 22-cubic-centimeters. The cubic catom specializes in angular motion. The cubic catom has the ability to expand and contract based on the instructions it receives.
These catoms are of a larger size, compared to the millimeter long catoms. The are used to form larger shape forms that may not be currently feasible using millimeter catoms. The planar catom has a weight of 100 grams.
These helium catoms have a size of eight cubic meters. The catom is filled with helium gas that may accomplish flight. The end goal of this subproject is to ascertain the feasibility of flight based intelligent modulated movement.
Millimeter Scale Catoms
This catom comes in at size of just under a millimeter and constitute of SiO22, aluminium electrodes and a CPU. The millimeter scale catoms may be credited with revolutionary breakthroughs in robotic sciences in the coming few decades. Other models also include Stochastic Catoms and Electrostatic latches.
The programming behind Claytronics
Claytronic nodes or catoms are programmed using specifically designed and developed declarative programming languages. The research team at Carnegi Melon have developed 2 high level programming languages that aid communication between catoms, they are called LDP and Meld, respectively.2
Future potential applications
Claytronics and programmable matter would literally have unlimited applications, with the only limited metric, being time.
The technology could evolve to a level where home furniture would not be bought, it would simply be created. A person may go to a store to purchase his / her claytronics unit and program it to simply assemble and disassemble, as and when the need arises. It could also be programmed to change shapes and colors. Also, A single claytronics unit could simply divide in multiple chairs or tables for an occasion and disassemble when not required.
When claytronics based furniture becomes a reality, it would only be a matter of time, when entire buildings could be made using claytronics. The construction time would be a fraction of what it is today. Also, the buildings could move from one place to another.
This technology would have the potential to break the VR industry, as claytronics based games would actually bring the characters to your gaming desk, where you could actually touch, feel and interact with these hybrid catoms.
Claytronics bundled with AI
Scientists estimate that human beings could create true Artificial Intelligence by the year 2075. Once AI becomes self aware, it could merge itself with a claytronics unit, that would have to ability to out-think human beings and shape shift at the same time. AI is moving at a fast pace, with current AI applications including: