You may know of Claytronics (aka programmable matter) – the use of reconfigurable nanoscale robots to form shapeshifting objects.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have proposed several basic robotic designs as possible foundations for claytronics, including:
- Planar catoms test the concept of motion without moving parts and the design of force effectors that create cooperative motion within ensembles of modular robots.
- Electrostatic latches model a new system of binding and releasing the connection between modular robots, a connection that creates motion and transfers power and data while employing a small factor of a powerful force.
- Stochastic Catoms integrate random motion with global objectives communicated in simple computer language to form predetermined patterns, using a natural force to actuate a simple device, one that cooperates with other small helium catoms to fulfill a set of unique instructions.
- Giant Helium Catoms provide a larger-than-life, lighter-than-air platform to explore the relation of forces when electrostatics has a greater effect than gravity on a robotic device, an effect simulated with a modular robot designed for self-construction of macro-scale structures.
- Cubes employ electrostatic latches to demonstrate the functionality of a device that could be used in a system of lattice-style self-assembly at both the macro and nano-scale.
Interesting to see these different approaches at such an early stage of the technology. Now to wait 20 or so years and see which design comes out on top.
Videos and detailed info @ Carnegie Mellon – Link
Shape-shifting robot forms from magnetic swarm @ New Scientist – Link
Claytronics – Link