The Next Technological Age
I am sure there are threads on this, but this thread is putting all information into one thread. I assure you this will be more detailed than any
other thread on the subject. Feel free to add more and discuss the implications of this technology. Much of this information is cut and paste and
the references are listed with each article. I do not take credit for writing this, I am merely regurgitating this information for everyone here on
ATS, of course with references.
Imagine if you will, having the ability to create anything you want simply by the push of a button or by creating it on CAD. This technology is here
believe it or not, it is in it’s early infancy, but there is no denying that this is going to be the next Revolution for human-kind. I will go over
the technology today and what is being developed for tomorrow, as well as the pros and cons of such technology.
Here is a video simulating the technology:
The Synthetic Reality Age is born
“In 2002, Seth Goldstein and Todd Mowry started the claytronics project at Carnegie Mellon University to investigate the underlying hardware and
software mechanisms necessary to realize programmable matter.
“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 each others, change color, and electro-statically 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.
Claytronics technology is currently being researched by Professor Seth Goldstein and Professor Todd C. Mowry at Carnegie Mellon University, which is
where the term was coined. According to Carnegie Mellon's Synthetic Reality Project personnel, claytronics are described as "An ensemble of material
that contains sufficient local computation, actuation, storage, energy, sensing, and communication" which can be programmed to form interesting
dynamic shapes and configurations.
The project combines modular robotics, systems nanotechnology and computer science to create the dynamic, 3-Dimensional display of electronic
information known as claytronics.
The goal is to give tangible, interactive forms to information so that a user's senses will experience digital environments as though they are
indistinguishable from reality.
Claytronics is taking place across a rapidly advancing frontier. This technology will help to drive breathtaking advances in the design and
engineering of computing and hardware systems.
Realizing the vision of claytronics through the self-assembly of millions of catoms into synthetic reality will have a profound effect on the
experience of users of electronic information. This promise of claytronic technology has become possible because of the ever increasing speeds of
computer processing predicted in Moore's Law.”
How will this effect you?
“We still tell our children “you can be anything when you grow up.” It’s time to start telling them “you’re going to be able to make
anything…right now.” Similar work at MIT and Carnegie Mellon is pointing towards the next revolution in computers and manufacturing: programmable
matter. In the future you won’t use computers to design a car, the car will form from billions of tiny computers that arrange themselves into
anything you want. The physical and computational world will merge. Hope you’re ready.
How can a material be intelligent? By being made up of particle-sized machines. At Carnegie Mellon, with support from Intel, the project is called
Claytronics. The idea is simple: make basic computers housed in tiny spheres that can connect to each other and rearrange themselves. It’s the same
concept as we saw with Modular Robotics, only on a smaller scale. Each particle, called a Claytronics atom or Catom, is less than a millimeter in
diameter. With billions you could make almost any object you wanted. See the concept video after the break.
Carnegie Mellon isn’t the only university pursuing intelligent materials. MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA) is actively trying to merge
physics and computer science. Neil Gershenfeld, CBA’s director and one of the leaders in computational physics, is seeking to design, build and
program computers that are what they compute. He’s taking the “bit” and turning it into an “it,” instead of the other way around.
It All Looks Good on Paper
In hardware, Claytronics has already made centimeter sized cylindrical catoms that have basic features. They can latch together and recognize when
they are latched, and they can be moved using electrostatic forces. Carnegie Mellon is also researching how to power the catoms using magnetic
resonance coupling (having each catom convert a magnetic field into electricity). Catoms will be so small that electric forces will be more important
than gravity so they’re using helium filled cubes to test how catoms will work when gravity is no longer the dominate force.
Software research is just as rigorous. Programmers have to create a system where catoms can communicate wirelessly over relatively long ranges and
with little power. In a single cubic meter, there could be a billion catoms. That means a billion computers trying to talk to each other and move
themselves to form a shape. It’s a daunting task but it’s helped by a great concept known as “fungibility.”
When something is fungible, not only is twice as many twice as useful, half as many is half as useful. Bread is fungible, a human is not. Cut one in
half and you still have food, cut the other in half and you go to jail. Right now, computers are not fungible. With programmable matter, they would
be. That same cubic meter of a billion catoms is essentially a network of a billion computers. That’s a lot of computational power - more than
enough to organize it into different shapes. And if the computer was separated into sections, the overall computing power would still be the same.
Don’t try that with your laptop.
Fungbility is a concept that Gershenfeld at CBA can really get behind. At TED 2006, he discussed how programmable matter and fungible computers will
allow you to “pour out” as much computer as you need to solve a problem. The amount of computational strength you need would be matched by a
physical quantity in the real world. Watch his talk below, but be warned: it’s long, he talks fast, and some of the ideas are a little heady.
What will it mean for us to be Post-Scarcity?
“Working with non-programmable matter, Gershenfeld organized a lab with some basic tools: a laser cutter, milling machines, a sign cutter, and
programming instruments. Costing somewhere around $20,000 these basic labs can make almost any useful modern device. Computer boards, antennas, you
name it. He shared these labs with educational groups all over the world. What did he find? Human ingenuity is more powerful than previously
Children, and adults, were designing chips, tools, and many other inventions to solve local problems. By providing the means, local solutions arose
from local inventors. This, my friends, is one of the most promising aspects of programmable matter: when we can build anything, we can solve any
problem. The programmable matter will provide the computational power and the physical forms that we can organize into tools to
(Continued next post)
[edit on 1-9-2009 by kdial1]