Imagine a world with 3D printers where you can make 100s of 3D copies of any object you want. Imagine a world where your chair is not just a chair, it can shape shift into a bed, or any other object you want it to become. According to Professor Seth Goldstine of Carnegale Mellon University, this world may not be that far away.
The technology that allows this kind of shape shifting is called Claytronics. Claytronics is a collection of programmable matter otherwise known as catoms, or claytronic atoms. For simplicity, we can think of them as nano-scale computers that could move around, and cooperate with all other units to form dynamic 3D shapes. Just like atoms are the basic building block of everything in the universe, catoms are the basic building block of Claytronics. The idea behind Claytronics is putting enough of these catoms together, and giving them a command, and they will assemble themselves into anything we want.
The first application of Claytronics is expected to be the 3D fax machine. The 3D fax machine will enable us to send not just sound and picture, but the 3D shape itself. The idea behind the 3D fax machine is to place an object in a container full of Claytronics, and it will determine the size, color, and other attributes. Then these attributes will be transferred into another claytronic device that will reassemble the exact object using catoms.
“Claytronics is a technology that will ride the exponential growth curve that we see in many computers. So it is reasonable to assume that we will have 3D fax within five years” says Professor Seth Goldsteine of the Carnegale Mellon University.
One of the basic challenges of Claytronics is keeping these catoms attached to one another. The plan is to use electrostatic forces to hold them together. Just like atoms form covalent bonds to arrange into clusters, catoms are expected to combine into clusters using electrostatic forces. Another challenge is figuring out the right program that can get all the individual units to cooperate to perform a global task.
If this project is successful the results will be amazing. Your furniture will be able to do double duty, the art on your wall will change itself according to your mood, your cell phone could turn into a laptop, and when the work is done it will turn back into a cell phone. Basically, this technology will revolutionize the way we live, and communicate.
One of the main goals of Claytronics is to improve human to human communication. This way you would be able to talk to someone who lives far away, and yet have the experience of talking to him as if he was in the same room with you. This method allows us to communicate using not just voice and picture, but also touch. Of course, the other person would be made out of Claytronics, but the experience would be so real that it could not be differentiated from reality.