Programmable matter from Monika Rafaj on Vimeo.
Programmable matter is matter which has the ability to change its physical properties (shape, density, moduli, conductivity, optical properties, etc.) in a programmable fashion, based upon user input or autonomous sensing.
Programmable matter is thus linked to the concept of a material which inherently has the ability to perform information processing.
Imagine thousands of little building blocks autonomously assembling into any shape you want; that’s the idea behind Programmable Matter: A substance that is able to change its physical properties (e.g. shape, stiffness, color) as directed by the user.
Programmable Matter systems could have real-world advantages: Objects can be assembled or repaired on-the-fly, and deconstructed to be recycled into new objects once they are no longer needed. Programmable matter would open up new possibilities for rapid prototyping, space exploration, sustainable technology, and evolutionary design.
In my project I try to explain shape-programmability with the goal of developing modules from which self-reconfigurable structures can be built. The approach to programmable matter involves the assembly of components with embedded electronics.
Concept of programmable matter can be based on “simple” programmable matter (complex fluids, metamaterials, shape-changing molecules, electropermanent magnets) or robotics-based approaches (self-reconfiguring modular robotics,claytronics, cellular automata, quantum wells, synthetic biology).
For my project I focused on claytronics atoms (or catoms) which are nanoscale robots designed to form much larger scale machines or mechanisms. 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.
Nowadays, there are many research Lab developing this concept, such as Cornell Creative Machines Lab, Whitesides Group Research , Intel Labs, Autodesk research and so on. For example Cornell Creative Machines Lab has focused on developing centimeter scale modules that contain the mechanical and electrical functionality needed for controlled self-assembly. Further, they have developed a C++ based simulator to develop control strategies capable of dealing with the stochasticity in the assembly environment.
Autodesk research developes the intersection of bio/nano/programmable matter and the design spaces currently supported by Autodesk software such as manufacturing and the building industry. Equally important, they explore and drive the emergent design spaces enabled by bio/nano/programmable matter such as synthetic biology.
Today, the design paradigm behind programmable matter is one that can be gradually applied to concrete projects across a range of domains and metric scales. The cross-pollination across projects will help create a robust scale-free body of knowledge.