We recently posted on the topic of "Programmable Matter" as a futuristic concept. Well, it *is* futuristic, but perhaps it's a little bit closer than we think.
We encountered "The Claytronics Project" at Carnegie Mellon, whose mission is:
This project combines modular robotics, systems nanotechnology and computer science to create the dynamic, 3-Dimensional display of electronic information known as claytronics. Our 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.
They are building catoms ("claytronic atoms") with associated software and tools for using these catoms in an effective manner. Their extensive website provides a complete introduction to the concept, including the physical characteristics that must be mastered for claytronics to work.
The vision is vast and complex, as many aspects must be considered and serious problems must be overcome. Difficulties in mechanics, software design and materials are all present in large quantities.
Why do this? This video tells it all. It is what we all are working toward. Thank you, CMU, for making our day!
And we must add that we really like the phrase, "Billions of Microscopic Robots".