Claytronics Case Essay
“Claytronics” is an emerging field of engineering concerning reconfigurable nanoscale robots designed to form much larger scale machines or mechanisms. Also known as “programmable matter”, the catoms will be sub-millimeter computers that will eventually have the ability to move around, communicate with each others, change color, and electrostatically connect to other catoms to form different shapes. The forms made up of catoms could morph into nearly any object, even replicas of human beings for virtual meetings. . Likely spherical in shape, a catom would have no moving parts. Rather, it would be covered with electromagnets to attach itself to other catoms; it would move by using the electromagnets to roll itself over other catoms.
The catoms surfaces would have light-emitting diodes to allow them to change color and photo cells to sense light, allowing the collective robot to see. Each would contain a fairly powerful, Pentium-class computer . According to Carnegie Mellon’s Synthetic Reality Project personnel, claytronics are described as “An ensemble of material that contains sufficient localcomputation, actuation, storage, energy, sensing, and communication” which can be programmed to form interesting dynamic shapes and configurations. The idea is not to transport objects nor is it to recreate an objects chemicalcomposition, but rather to create a physical artefact,that will mimic the shape, movement, visual appearance,sound, and tactile qualities of the original object
Programmable matter’ one day could transform itself into all kinds of look-alikes The day when doctors routinely made house calls may be past, but that doesn’t mean that someday you won’t routinely see your doctor in your home — with emphasis on “see.” That is to say, your doctor could physically work out of her office. But a three-dimensional lookalike, assembled from perhaps a billion tiny, BB-like robots, could be her stand-in in your home. She could talk with you, touch you, look at you, all under the control of the real, if distant, doc. After the examination, she could be disassembled, leaving behind a big pile of beads. Or the beads might reassemble into a piece of moving sculpture, or turn into a chair. Not a single such robot yet exists; building the one-millimeter diameter robots that Goldstein envisions is beyond current technology.
And he acknowledges it could be decades before a synthetic doctor is possible, much less affordable.But it’s not too soon to start thinking about it. “It’s a little like putting a man on the moon,” said Todd Mowry.It’s not just a problem of building tiny robots, but figuring out how to power them, to get them to stick together and to coordinate and control millions or billions of them. No one’s even sure what to call it. “Claytronics,” “synthetic reality” and “programmable matter” have been proposed.
“Dynamic physical rendering” is the label Intel uses. Each of the individual robots comprising these people or shapes would be a “claytronic atom,” or catom. Likely spherical in shape, a catom would have no moving parts. Rather, it would be covered with electromagnets to attach itself to other catoms; it would move by using the electromagnets to roll itself over other catoms. *The catoms’ surfaces would have light-emitting diodes to allow them to change color and photo cells to sense light, allowing the collective robot to see. Each would contain a fairly powerful, Pentium-class computer.
CLAYTRONICS, A SYNTHETIC REALITY [pic][pic]
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.
What is Claytronics?
“Claytronics” is an emerging field of engineering concerning reconfigurable nanoscale robots (‘claytronic atoms’, or catoms) which can interact with each other to form tangible 3-D objects that a user can interact with.They are designed to form much larger scale machines or mechanisms. Also known as “programmable matter”, the catoms will be sub-millimeter computers that will eventually have the ability to move around, communicate with each others, change color, and electrostatically connect to other catoms to form different shapes. The forms made up of catoms could morph into nearly any object, even replicas of human beings for virtual meetings. Claytronics technology is currently being researched by Professor Seth Goldstein and Professor Todd C. Mowry at Carnegie Mellon University, which is where the term was coined. .
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( describes a long-term trend in the history of computing hardware, in which the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years) to back it up. According to Carnegie Mellon’s Synthetic Reality Project personnel, claytronics are described as “An ensemble of material that contains sufficient local computation, actuation, storage, energy, sensing, and communication” which can be programmed to form interesting dynamic shapes and configurations. Claytronics has the potential to greatly affect many areas of daily life, such as telecommunication, human-computer interfaces, and entertainment
In other words, programmable matter will allow us to take a (big) step beyond virtual reality, to synthetic reality, an environment in which all the objects in a user’s environment are physically realized. Note that the idea is not to transport objects nor is it to recreate an objects chemical composition, but rather to create a physical artefact that will mimic the shape, movement, visual appearance,sound, and tactile qualities of the original object
Claytronics though based upon on concepts of physics and electronics in schoolbooks (and a neat trick), it’s a technology of 2040 and 2050 due to the technical challenge scientific and engineering community live with. Challenge is to develop and control this material on the scale of nanometers (100 times thinner then human hair, 1 nanometer = 10 -9 meters).
Claytronics doesn’t end with “working together” philosophy or networked computing alone. Catoms, basic blocks of claytronics can morph their physical and chemical properties, meaning same material can be of different mechanical, thermal properties, can have different shape or size, different color, fluorescent material can be converted to super reflecting mirror. These highlights and long wait till Year 2040/50. .
Our goal is that the system be usable now and scalablefor the future. Thus, the guiding design principle,behind both the hardware and the software, is SCALABILITY.Hardware mechanisms need to scale towards micronsized catoms and million-catom ensembles. Software mechanisms need to be scale invariant.
Claytronics will be a test-bed for solving some of the most challenging problems we face today: how to build complex, massively distributed dynamic systems. It is also a step towards truly integrating computers into our lives—by having them integrated into the very artifactsaround us and allowing them to interact with the world.
Programmable matter consists of a collection of individual components, which we call claytronic atoms or catoms.
• move in three dimensions in relation to other catoms,
• adhere to other catoms to maintain a 3D shape, communicate with other catoms in an ensemble, and compute state information with possible assistance from other catoms in the ensemble.
Each catom is a unit with a CPU, a network device, a single-pixel display, one or more sensors, a means of locomotion, and a mechanism for adhering to other catoms. Although this sounds like a microrobot, we believe that implementing a completely autonomous microrobot is unnecessarily complex. Instead, we take a cue from cellular reconfigurable robotics research to simplify the individual robot modules so that they are easier to manufacture using high-volume methods.
Realizing this vision requires new ways of thinking about massive numbers of cooperating millimeter-scale units. Most importantly, it demands simplifying and redesigning the software and hardware used in each catom to reduce complexity and manufacturing cost and increase robustness and reliability. For example, each catom must work cooperatively with others in the ensemble to move, communicate, and obtain power. Consequently, our designs strictly adhere to the ensemble principle: A robot module should include only enough functionality to contribute to the ensemble’s desired functionality. Three early results of our research each highlight a key aspect of the ensemble principle: easy manufacturability, powering million-robot ensembles, and surface contour control without global motion planning.
Some catom designs will be easier to produce in mass quantity than others. Our present exploration into the design space investigates modules without moving parts, which we see as an intermediate stage to designing catoms suitable for high-volume manufacturing.
In our present macroscale (44-mm diameter), cylindrical prototypes, shown in Figure 1, each catom is equipped with 24 electromagnets arranged in a pair of stacked rings. To move, a pair of catoms must ﬁrst be in contact with another pair. Then, they must appropriately energize the next set of magnets along each of their circumferences. .
The current prototypes can only overcome the frictional forces opposing their own horizontal movement, but downscaling will improve the force budget substantially. The resulting force from two similarly energized magnet coils varies roughly with the inverse cube of distance, whereas the ﬂux due to a given coil varies with the square of the scale factor. Hence, the potential force generated between two catoms varies linearly with scale. Meanwhile, mass varies with the cube of scale.
Powering Microbot Ensembles:.
Some energy requirements, such as effort to move versus gravity, scale with size. Others, such as communication and computation, don’t. As microrobots (catoms) are scaled down, the onboard battery’s weight and volume exceed those of the robots themselves. To provide sufﬁcient energy to each catom without incurring such a weight and volume penalty, we’re developing methods for routing energy from an external source to all catoms in an ensemble. For example, an ensemble could tap an environmental power source, such as a special table with positive and negative electrodes, and route that power internally using catom-tocatom connections. To simplify manufacturing and accelerate movement, we believe it’s necessary to avoid using intercatom connectors that can carry both supply and ground via separate conductors within the connector assembly. Such complex connectors can signiﬁcantly increase reconﬁguration time.
For example, in previously constructed modular robotic systems such as the Palo Alto Research Center’s PolyBot and the Dartmouth Robotics Lab’s Molecule it can take tens of seconds or even minutes for a robot module to uncouple from its neighbor, move to another module, and couple with that newly proximal module.
In contrast, our present unary-connector-based prototypes can “dock” in less than 100 ms because no special connector alignment procedure is required. This speed advantage isn’t free, however: A genderless unary connector imposes additional operational complexity in that each catom must obtain a connection to supply from one neighbor and to ground from a different neighbor. Several members of the Claytronic team have recently developed power distribution algorithms that satisfy these criteria. These algorithms require no knowledge of the ensemble conﬁguration—lattice spacing, ensemble size, or shape—or power-supply location. Further, they require no on-catom power storage.
Shape Control Without Global Motion Planning:
Classical approaches to creating an arbitrary shape from a group of modular robots involve motion planning through high-dimensional search or gradient descent methods. However, in the case of a million-robot ensemble, global search is unlikely to be tractable. Even if a method could globally plan for the entire ensemble, the communications overhead required to transmit individualized directions to each module would be very high. In addition, a global plan would break down in the face of individual unit failure. To address these concerns, we’re developing algorithms that can control shape without requiring extensive planning or communication. This approach focuses on the motion of holes rather than that of robots per se. Given a uniform hexagonal-packed plane of catoms, a hole is a circular void due to the absence of seven catoms. Such a seven-catom hole can migrate through the ensemble by appropriate local motion of the adjacent catoms.
Holes migrate through the ensemble as if moving on a frictionless plane, and bounce back at the ensemble’s edges. Just as bouncing gas molecules exert pressure at the edges of a balloon, bouncing holes interact frequently with each edge of the ensemble without the need for global control. As Figure 2 illustrates, edges can contract by consuming a hole or expand by creating a hole, purely under local control. We initiate shape formation by “ﬁlling” the ensemble with holes. Each hole receives an independent, random velocity and begins to move around. A shape goal speciﬁes the amount each edge region must either contract or expand to match a desired target shape. A hole that hits a contracting edge is consumed. In effect, the empty space that constitutes the hole moves to the outside of the ensemble, pulling in the surface at that location. Similarly, expanding edges create holes and inject them into the ensemble, pushing its contour out in the corresponding local region.
Importantly, all edge contouring and hole motion can be accomplished using local rules, and the overall shape of an ensemble can be programmed purely by communicating with the catoms at the edges. Hence, we use probabilistic methods to achieve a deterministic result. Our initial analyses of the corresponding 3D case suggest surface contour control will be possible via a similar algorithm.
Ping-Pong to marble size
A large, moving shape such as a human replica might contain a billion catoms. A system with a billion computer nodes, he added, “is something on the scale of the entire Internet. . . . Unlike the real Internet, our thing is moving.”
This will require new schemes for quickly organizing and reorganizing such a large computer network. A moving shape will necessarily force catoms to constantly and quickly change positions, breaking connections with one set of catoms and establishing new connections with others. The idea behind self-reconfigurable robots is that a robot could change shape depending on a task — perhaps operating as a snake-like robot to wiggle through tight spaces, while taking the form of a spider or a humanoid for other types of exploration.
Identifying each catom by a number, like each computer on the Internet, isn’t likely to work. Rather, catoms may identify themselves based on function or position — a catom replicating a human would need to know if it was part of a pinky finger, or a mouth, or an eye.
Power also has been a concern. As we shrink thingswe find that weight and bulk is primarily in the battery.The idea is to eliminate the battery. Instead, the catoms will automatically form themselves into electrical circuits, so delivering power to one catom effectively delivers power to all of the catoms.
As the shape moves and the catoms rearrange themselves, connections will be repeatedly made and broken, interupting power. So the catoms will be designed with a capacitor or small battery to hold just enough charge to compensate for the momentary disconnections. The system also will be engineered to maintain its shape even when powered off. proposes covering the sides of the catoms with manmade fibers similar to the microscopic foot hairs of the gecko, a tropical lizard.The millions of hairs on a gecko’s toes allow it to cling to almost any surface.
The hairs aren’t sticky, but rely on weak electrodynamic forces known as the van der Waals force. If the synthetic hairs can be fashioned out of the microscopic fibers known as carbon nanotubes, the hairs could conduct electricity and might serve as the electrical connections between catoms.. Even if claytronics doesn’t immediately yield 3-D motion, it might be useful for producing 3-D shapes in the computer-aided design process, Goldstein said. Claytronics antennas could change shape to improve reception of different radio frequencies. A Claytronics cell phone might grow a full-size keyboard, or expand its video display as needed.
The Concept and the trick
Catoms, of which claytronics machines will built upon are kind of rich quantum dot. Quantum dot is basically a semiconducting crystal (material used in ICs for almost any electronic or computing device) on a nanoscale, so we can call it semiconducting nanocrystal. Quantum dots unlike normal semiconducting crystal caters to single or more electrons on a scale small enough that they can be called as artificial atoms without their own nucleus. To make this understand better Quantum dots controls can control almost single electron in its own territory.
These territories have different levels, in scientific term called discrete energy levels on the order of De-Broglies wavelength. Trick is really simple in theory; every substance on a atomic level is identified based upon its atomic number and atomic mass number. Atom has three basic atomic particles (no of basic particles discovered is high as of now) electron, proton and neutron. In a balanced atom no of electrons and protons are same, so no of electrons indicates atomic number as well. Here in Quantum dots we can manipulate no of electrons trapped by adjusting the voltage to the metal. Creating lots of such artificial atoms in metal like semiconductor can alter lots of its chemical and electronic properties to make a non transparent metal behave like a transparent mirror maybe.
A Modular Robotic System Using Magnetic Force Effectors
One of the primary impediments to building ensembles of modular robots is the complexity and number of mechanical mechanisms used to construct the individual modules. As part of the Claytronics project—which aims to build very large ensembles of modular robots— investigation is done on how to simplify each module by eliminating moving parts and reducing the number of mechanical mechanisms on each robot by using force-at-a-distance actuators. Additionally, also investigating the feasibility of using these unary actuators to improve docking performance, implement intermodule adhesion, power transfer, communication, and sensing.
Three magnetic 45mm planar catoms.
Advances in manufacturing and electronics open up new possibilities for designing modular robotic systems. As the robots become smaller, it becomes possible to use force-at-adistance actuators—e.g., actuators which cause one module to move relative to another via magnetic or electric fields external to the modules themselves. Furthermore, as the cost and power consumption of electronics continue to decrease, it becomes increasingly attractive to use complex electronics rather than complex mechanical systems. In this paper, we explore how a single device that exploits magnetic forces can be harnessed to unify actuation, adhesion, power transfer, communication, and sensing. By combining a single coil with the appropriate electronics we can simplify the robot— reducing both its weigt and size—while increasing its capabilities.
Furthermore ,since we are interested in the ensemble as a whole, we do not require that individual units be self-sufficientAs long as individual units can contribute to the overall motion of the ensemble, they do not need the ability to move independently within the greater environment. We call this design principle the ensemble axiom: each unit contains only the minimum abilities necessary to contribute to the aggregate functionality of the ensemble.
Choosing the right mechanism for locomotion is a key design decision. In addition to scalability, the size of the unit must also be taken into account. At the macroscale,complex mechanisms such as motors are effective. However, as units scale down in size other approaches become viable, taking advantage of increasing surface-to-volume ratio and decreasing of inertial moments.
Our current robots, which we call planar catoms1, are small enough that we can explore a mechanism designed around magnetic field forceat- a-distance actuators. As the units decrease further in size, actuators based upon electric field forces become viable and are appealing because they use less current, produce less heat, and weigh less than magnetic actuators. Even smaller units could harness surface forces such as surface tension or Van der Waals’ forces. The size scale also affects power transfer and storage: because electrical resistance increases as contact size decreases, direct electrical connections between robots become increasingly impractical.
II. Related Work
Of the many research efforts the most relevant to our work is Fracta Fracta is a two dimensional modular robot which uses a combination of permanent magnets and electromagnets for locomotion and adhesion. As in our planar catoms, to move a module requires communication between the moving module and its neighbors. The two main differences between Fracta and planar catoms are due to changes in underlying technology and the use of permanent magnets. Fracta modules are constrained to be in a hex-lattice whereas the planar catoms have additional actuators and can be arranged in a cubic or hex lattice. Significant advances in VLSI enable us to create smaller, lighter units which do not use permanent magnets. We also harness the magnets for more than locomotion and adhesion, i.e., the magnets also serve as the main mechanism for power transfer, sensing, and communications.
Planar catoms are our first step along the path towards realizing three dimensional claytronics. The robots rely on the external forces and move stochastically, adhering to each other under control of the program running on the robot. The ensemble principle is carried even further in the latter project; robots are unpowered until they adhere to a powered robot.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 24 December 2016
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