Imagine your cell phone rings and you pull it out of you pocket to answer the call. It’s from someone who wants to send you an image, so you take your phone and between your hands and mash it flat. You aren’t breaking it, because it reforms into a thin device with a large screen.
This sounds like science-fiction, but one day it could really happen, if research being done at Intel and Carnegie Mellon bears fruit.
Scientists in this project are attempting to create programmable matter. This will be made of a sort of electronic clay named, logically enough, claytronics.
Each individual particle of this substance — called a catom for claytronics atom — will function as a tiny computer. Intel is hoping to be able create a microprocessor and all the associated hardware in package with a diameter of 1 mm.
All the catoms in an object will be networked together to form a single computer, with some forming the display, others handling wireless communications, etc.
These will stick together but have no moving parts. This will allow people to form them into shapes that want.
Justin Rattner, Intel’s chief technology officer, and Jason Campbell, a senior Intel researcher, talked recently about programmable matter at their company’s developer forum.
Campbell is very ambitious about this project and says it could be feasible in the next few years. Rattner is more cautious and warned that there’s still plenty more work to be done. So it could be quite a while before claytronics is available outside of a sci-fi movie.
More information is available on Intel’s website.