Create Anything You Want With Programmable Matter

– [Narrator] Think the fax is dead? Wait until you can fax your whole body. Note back in our self
reconfiguring modular robots episode we talked
about robots that can reshape and reform themselves so that they can do any particular task perfectly. Well, what if we take that
same idea but think small. I mean really small. I’m talking about programmable matter. Actual three dimensional tactile material that can take on any predetermined shape and then change shapes on demand. Imagine that we have a
programmable material work station. That might include a
little trough with some beige puddy in it, and
this puddy looks totally normal until you send
it some information like a virtual model of a
three dimensional object. And then it springs into action, forming that object right in front of your eyes. Now it sounds like it’s the
stuff of science fiction. And that crazy kind of technology has to be 100 years away, right? Maybe, but maybe not. One approach to programmable
matter is Claytronics, which is an idea that came out of Carnegie Melon University and Intel. The base unit of Claytronics is the Catom, the computerized atom. Now, these catoms can
work together to form three dimensional objects on demand. And building that kind of
machine is pretty tricky. They have to be able to receive energy, they have to be able to
communicate with one another and they have to be able to move around, preferably without having any
moving parts of their own. So several years ago,
Carnegie Melon researchers built catom cylindrical prototypes that were 44 millimeters in diameter. Now these things were able to move around on a two dimensional
plane pushing and pulling against each other using electro magnets. In the future, we want to
see even smaller catoms. Maybe just a millimeter
in size, or the size of a grain of sand, or maybe
even smaller than that. Now, in a future where this is a reality, where we have programmable material, why should we be excited about it? Well think about it, email has pretty much rendered the fax obsolete but what if you could fax three dimensional objects? Let me say that I have a trough
full of Claytronic catoms in front of me, and I take an object and dip it into that trough, the catoms flow over it creating a virtual model of the object I’ve put into it. And then I send that to
you, and you have your own trough of Claytronic
catoms that assemble themselves into that same
three dimensional object. Boom! I’ve just sent you a copy
of a real physical thing. Or in the far future it could
be part of telepresence. Forget phone calls, forget video calls, I would be able to create
a full three dimensional Claytronic version of
myself that could appear in front of you and give you
a hand shake or even a hug. The entertainment applications for this alone are astounding. Imagine playing a video
game and the characters literally leap off the screen and become three dimensional creatures in your home. And if this stuff becomes
plentiful and cheap enough, we could have
objects disassembling and reassembling themselves everywhere. Let’s say I’ve got a
bunch of friends coming over for dinner and I
want to make sure I’ve got enough seats for
them, well I could use Claytronics to build the
furniture right then and there. Then, when my guests leave,
I can have it disassemble back into those individual catoms and go into a vat for storage. One thing we have to take
into consideration is this amazing future may never
appear during our lifetimes. But, I’m still really
excited by the prospect people working on this technology. And we don’t even know where it could go. I mean, when people first
started making computers, they had no way of knowing that the future would turn out to be as
amazing as our present is. That brings me to this
week’s question for you guys. If you had a big ole’
vat of Claytronic catoms in front of you, what’s the
first thing you’d build with it? I want to know in the comments below. And if enjoyed this video
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