A tangible future with Claytronics

Programmable matter is about to revolutionize human-computer interaction.

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The big advantage of designing on a computer is the ease of changing things, like color and shape. But, especially for 3D objects, it has some disadvantages. You don’t really get a feel for the object: What does it look like when I walk around it? How does it feel when I hold it in my hands? With Claytronics technology this problem could be solved.

Claytronics technology is about reconfigurable nanoscale robots. All these tiny little robots (catoms) are part of a much bigger apparatus. The Carnegie Mellon University together with Intel are currently researching this technology. Though it might seem somewhat futuristic, they are confident that it can be realized and they’ve got Moore’s Law to back it up.

Here is a concept video to get a better understanding of where this is actually going. The video is made by students from the Carnegie Mellon University.

Now as I said, it seems somewhat futuristic, but these nano-based technologies aren’t that far away anymore as most of us might think. Earlier this year I attended an absolutely jaw-dropping presentation on nanotechnology by prof. dr. ing. Dave Blank from the University of Twente (the Netherlands). He’s a full professor Inorganic Materials Science of the Faculty Science and Technology and the Scientific Director of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology. In his presentation he showed to what extend this technology already has been developed. We were amazed to see that a lot of it is ready to use. They’re currently in the final stages of checking if it’s save, and then it’s ready to go.

I find it to be an exciting development as well as a scary one. Technologies like Claytronics offer so much interesting possibilities. It results in a new way of human-computer interaction which is so incredibly organic that you almost forget it still is human-computer interaction. A new marriage between the tangible and the intangible. Imagine this technology in your phone for example. As a matter of fact, Nokia allready did that with their Morph concept. It’s nothing less than revolutionary.

What I find to be a bit scary about it, is that it consists out of (programmable) particles which can’t be seen with the naked eye. Particles that can be inhaled easily or get into the water supplies. 15 to 20 years from now might be the very first time in history that we can get (physically) sick from a computer virus.

Dennis Koks

Dennis Koks (1987, The Netherlands) is a designer | conceptual thinker for interactive media and co-founder of Transparent Spaces. Dennis is fascinated about the social impact of interactive design and how it can improve our daily lives.

2 comments on this article

  1. Thomas on

    See also Schulze and Webb’s “Metal Phone” project for Nokia:

    “….we’ve been using a low-melting point alloy that allows us to cast and recast a mobile phone shell using only hot air or water.”

  2. Nobody on

    Hopefully law makers are more switched onto new technology in 15-20 years time. this programmable matter will change civilization as we know it. May God protect us in the dark times ahead.