Claytronics is an abstract future concept that combines nanoscale robotics and computer science to create individual nanometer-scale computers called claytronic atoms, or catoms, which can interact with each other to form tangible 3D objects that a user can interact with. This idea is more broadly referred to as programmable matter. Claytronics has the potential to greatly affect many areas of daily life, such as telecommunication, human-computer interfaces, and entertainment.
Current research is exploring the potential of modular reconfigurable robotics and the complex software necessary to control the “shape changing” robots. “Locally Distributed Predicates or LDP is a distributed, high-level language for programming modular reconfigurable robot systems (MRRs)”. There are many challenges associated with programming and controlling a large number of discrete modular systems due to thedegrees of freedom that correspond with each module. For example, reconfiguring from one formation to one similar may require a complex path of movements controlled by an intricate string of commands even though the two shapes differ slightly.
In 2005, research efforts to develop a hardware concept were successful on the scale of millimeters, creating cylindrical prototypes 44 millimeters in diameter which interact with each other via electromagnetic attraction. Their experiments helped researchers verify the relationship between mass and potential force between objects as “a 10-fold reduction in size [which] should translate to a 100-fold increase in force relative to mass”. Recent advancements in this prototype concept are in the form of one millimeter diameter cylindrical robots fabricated on a thin film by photolithography that would cooperate with each other using complex software that would control electromagnetic attraction and repulsion between modules.
Today, extensive research and experiments with claytronics are being conducted at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by a team of researchers which consists of Professors Todd C. Mowry, Seth Goldstein, graduate and undergraduate students, and researchers from Intel Labs Pittsburgh.