Monday, June 8, 2009

Programmable Matter: Next-Generation Morphing Technologies

"Universal 'Rubik’s Cube' Could Become Pentagon Shapeshifter"
Danger Room - What's Next in National Security, Wired (June 5, 2009)

"Even by the standards of the Pentagon fringe science arm, this project sounds far-out: 'programmable matter' that can be ordered to 'self-assemble or alter their shape, perform a function and then disassemble themselves.' But researchers backed by Darpa are actually making progress on this incredible goal, Henry Kenyon at Signal magazine reports...."

This sort of thing was science fiction when I was growing up. The technologies being developed could, in principle, be:
  • Morphing aircraft and ground vehicles (Transformers, anyone?)
  • Self-altering uniforms that would be comfortable in any climate
  • 'Soft' robots flowing through small openings to enter 'closed' spaces (Remember Terminator II?)
  • A can of goop that's a "universal spare part"
Several kinds of morphing matter are being developed:
  • A "generalized Rubik’s Cube" that folds into many shapes
  • Synthetic DNA that would act like "molecular Velcro"
  • And MIT's "self-folding origami"
The MIT team hasn't been hitting the ginseng too much, by the way: From the looks of an unlabeled, uncaptioned photo, they've got a working model, or something close.

As if all that isn't new and different enough, Intel is looking into making programmable matter that can take data in real time from imaging devices, and make a physical, moving, model of what's being imaged - that moves as the original moves.

More, at:

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