Claytronics is an abstract future concept concerning reconfigurable robots known as “claytronic atoms” or catoms designed to form much larger scale machines or mechanisms. Catoms also known as “programmable matter” are sub millimetre computers that will eventually have the ability to move around, communicate with each others, change colour and connect to other c atoms to form different shapes.  The forms made up of atoms could morph into tangible 3-D objects that a user can interact with.  At Carnegie Mellon, with support from intel the project is known as claytronics.  Current research is exploring the potential of modular reconfigurable robotics and the complex software necessary to control the “shape changing” robots.  Claytronics has the potential to greatly affect many areas of daily life, such as telecommunication, human –computer interfaces and entertainment.

A claytronic system forms a shape through the interaction of the individual catoms.for example, suppose we wish to synthesis a physical copy of a person. The catoms would first determine their relative location and orientation.  Using that information they would then form a network in a distributed fashion and organize themselves into a hierarchical structure, both to improve locality and to facilitate the planning and co ordination tasks.  The goal would then be specified abstractly, perhaps as a series of snap shots or as a collection of virtual deforming forces and then broadcast the catoms.  Compilation of the specification would then provide each catom with a local plan for achieving the desired global shape.  At this point, the catoms would start to move around each other using generated on board, either magnetically or electro statically, and adhere to each other using, for example nanofibre adhesive mechanism. Finally the catoms on the surface would display an image; rendering the colour and texture characteristics of the source object.  If the source object begins to move, a concise description of the movements would be broadcast allowing the catoms to update their positions moving around each other.

Claytronics hardware

The catoms need to able to communicate with each other in an ensemble and be able to compute state information, possibly with assistance from each other.  Fundamentally, catoms consist of a CPU, a network device for communication, a single pixel display, several sensors and a means to adhere to one another.


Future Applications

As the capabilities of computing continue to develop and robotic modules shrink, claytronics will become useful in many applications.  The featured application of claytronics is a new mode of communication.  Claytronics will offer more realistic sense to communication over long distance called parioPario could be used effectively in many professional disciples from engineering design, education and healthcare to entertainment and leisure activities such as video games.
           

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