I love cool research and developments. I love experiments that make me say “Wow!,” even if they may not be realized for many years. One of the most interesting research projects I’ve come across lately comes out of Carnegie Mellon University. The project focuses on the control and manipulation of 3D objects. It can be viewed as the 3-Dimensional display of electronic information, which is a cool idea in itself. One example of this development is known as Claytronics. Seth Goldstein, associate professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, and Todd Mowry, Director of the Intel Research Lab-Pittsburgh, are the primary researchers involved in this project.

The project fits a mechatronic model in that it is truly multidisciplinary—the idea crosses the frontiers of computer science, modular robotics, and systems nanotechnology. When you watch the videos, your mind races in anticipation of all the cool things you might be able to do with a 3D
display of electronic information.

The researchers have some interesting application ideas including using programmable matter to create versions of ourselves that can be used to attend meetings to using this concept to create what Mowry calls “resizable electronics.” Personally, I find the resizable electronics idea more useful
that a 3D display of myself. Imagine your cell phone morphing a regular sized keypad on one end when you wish to type something, then morphing back into the size of your cell phone when done! (A lot less to pack on planes.)

According to the researchers, this technology is possible because of the increasing speeds of computer processing predicted in Moore's Law. Their goal is to give information an interactive form that enables you to sense and experience a digital environment that is indistinguishable from reality. That goal is a ways off, but you can’t help but wonder “what if . . .?”


The basic building block of this 3D information is the claytronic atom, or catom. Basically it is a type of miniature computer roughly the size of a BB. Currently, the researchers are exploring how to connect and coordinate each catom to each other through an electrostatic technique.



The electrostatic technique came about as a second idea. Magnetics, the first idea, made the modular robots too heavy. The researchers built large prototype catoms filled with helium and have been moving them around with static electricity. Other challenges include how to manage friction, energy transfer, and heat management. Electrical and computer engineering researchers are working on power transfer and adhesion.

Should this technology become practical, it stands a good chance of replacing 3D printers. But that time seems a ways off. But that should not stop you from checking out the videos and letting them excite your imagination!

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Comment by Per Sjoborg on February 25, 2010 at 1:53pm
Your Welcome!

Hope to see you in Anchorage in May!

Comment by Leslie Langnau on February 25, 2010 at 1:49pm
Thanks Per. Excellent information.

Best regards,

Comment by Per Sjoborg on February 25, 2010 at 12:08pm
This is part of a research field called Self-Reconfiguring Modular Robots, and you can find much more information at the wiki page http://bit.ly/2k8zMf

If you check out my youtub page ( http://bit.ly/1awPuF ) and the featured video you will find an excellent presentation by Todd Mowry that is mentioned in the post that shows that they have made great progress and have shrunk the units to a 4x1 mm cylinder (Pario: the Next Step Beyond Audio and Video)

I can also recommend that you visite the workshop on the area att ICRA2010 in May- Everybody that work on the area will be there! bit.ly/bcetLw

And If I may shamelessly plug my blog that focuses entirely on the area :-) you can find it here http://bit.ly/7bY2bm



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