Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Programmable Matter: Today, Robotic Origami; Tomorrow, Claytronics

"Video: Pentagon's Shape-Shifting Bot Folds Into Boat, Plane"
Danger Room, Wired (June 29, 2010)

"Even for the Pentagon's science-fiction division, it seemed like a stretch. But in 2007, Darpa really did launch an effort to build programmable matter that could reconfigure itself on command. Then, two years later, Harvard and MIT researchers really did make progress building “self-folding origami” that just might be able to twist themselves into different shapes. Yesterday, Darpa-backed electrical engineers at the two schools released the stunning results: a shape-shifting sheet of rigid tiles and elastomer joints that can fold itself into a little plane or a boat on demand...."

video, 0:57

There's another copy video on YouTube: the same thing, except it loads faster:

"Shape-shifting sheets automatically fold into multiple shapes .flv"

suchitaher9, YouTube (June 29, 2010)
video, 0:57

"...A programmable sheet self-folds into a boat- and into a plane-shape
Credit: Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and MIT/CSAIL.

That little sheet of motorized triangles may not look very practical: unless you have a need for tiny boats and airplanes. The Lemming is impressed that DARPA and all have made a sheet of material that folds into different shapes - on its own.

It's one thing to have a cool idea for some new technology.

Making a working prototype: that's another step. And, sometimes, a big one.

Another Approach to Programmable Matter: Claytronics

This YouTube video gives a pretty good look at what we'll probably be seeing in - five years? a decade? Depends on how difficult it is to make the technology user-friendly, and what sort of market there is for it: mostly the latter, I suspect.

"NEXT WORLD - Intel Claytronics (Programmable Matter)"

suhelbrar, YouTube (April 05, 2009)
video, 3:14

" 'Claytronics' is an emerging field of engineering concerning reconfigurable nanoscale robots ('claytronic atoms', or catoms) designed to form much larger scale machines or mechanisms. Also known as 'programmable matter', the catoms will be sub-millimeter computers that will eventually have the ability to move around, communicate with other computers, change color, and electrostatically connect to other catoms to form different shapes. The forms made up of catoms could morph into nearly any object, even replicas of human beings for virtual meetings.

The "Claytronics" video emphasizes the technology's potential for communications. Maybe this time, the predictions will be right. I remember the videophone of the sixties, and predictions that we'd all be talking to each other on the things by now.

Well, some of us are: via the Internet and webcams. But the videophone/picture phone never really took off, apart from a little videoconferencing now and then.

I think that's partly because a whole lot of people don't want to be seen when they pick up the phone. Here's what I look like - and I had time to get ready for the photo:

Think about it: would you like to get a call while you were cleaning out the grease trap, or waking up - and have someone see you, as-is?

I could be wrong, of course.

Where I think Claytronics has real possibilities is shown in that video, too: cellphones that become laptops - or anything else with a manual user interface; furniture that morphs to fit what you want at that moment; pictures on the wall that change - use your imagination! Forget 2D pictures.

Think about a sculpture that's what you want it to be - with (how many?) variations. My guess is that if the manufacturer is smart, they'll do what some ballpoint pen companies have done - sell the basic unit at a loss, and make their profit by selling/renting/leasing virtual modules with new and different art.

Then there's what can be done to streamline research and development of complex machines like automobiles and industrial robots.

The 21st century is starting to look like, well, the 21st century.

Related posts:More:


Brigid said...

On video phones: or right out of the shower wearing little more than a towel and a frantic expression, or in the middle of a heat wave with the A/C on the fritz so you're just wearing underwear... I can think of all sorts of reasons why I'd never get a video phone.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Yeah: Me, in my skivvies, answering the phone. The world may not be ready for that.

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