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Seminar Report

Submitted to:
Er. R. S. Sawhney

Made by:
Amit Mahajan
Roll # 74544, 7th semester
GNDU, Amritsar

1. Abstract
2. Introduction

3. Claytronics Vs Nanotechnology
4. Claytronics Hardware
5. Millimeter Scale Catoms
6. Software Research
7. An Internet in a Box
8. Nodes
9. Seamless Ensemble
10.The Research Program
11.Programming Language for Claytronic Ensembles
12.Shape Sculpting in Claytronics
14.Dynamic Simulation of Claytronic Ensembles

"Claytronics" is an emerging field of engineering concerning reconfigurable Nanoscale
robots ('claytronic atoms', or catoms) 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.

With Claytronics we are talking of intelligent material. How can a material be intelligent?
By being made up of particle-sized machines. At Carnegie Mellon, with support from Intel,
the project is called Claytronics. The idea is simple: make basic computers housed in tiny
spheres that can connect to each other and rearrange themselves. It’s the same concept as
we saw with Modular Robotics, only on a smaller scale. Each particle, called a Claytronics
atom or Catom, is less than a millimeter in diameter. With billions you could make almost
any object you wanted.

This project combines modular robotics, systems nanotechnology and computer science to
create the dynamic, 3-Dimensional display of electronic information known as Claytronics.

The main goal is to give tangible, interactive forms to information so that a user's senses
will experience digital environments as though they are indistinguishable from reality.

Claytronics is taking place across a rapidly advancing frontier. This technology will help to
drive breathtaking advances in the design and engineering of computing and hardware

Our research team focuses on two main projects:

• Creating the basic modular building block of Claytronics known as the claytronic
atom or Catom, and

• Designing and writing robust and reliable software programs that will manage the
shaping of ensembles of millions of catoms into dynamic, 3-Dimensional forms.

Realizing the vision of Claytronics through the self-assembly of millions of catoms into
synthetic reality will have a profound effect on the experience of users of electronic

Development of this powerful form of information display represents a partnership between

the School of Computer Sciences of Carnegie Mellon University and Intel Corporation at its
Pittsburgh Laboratory. As an integral part of our philosophy, the Claytronics Project seeks
the contributions of scholars and researchers worldwide who are dedicating their efforts to
the diverse scientific and engineering studies related to this rich field of nanotechnology
and computer science.

The Role of Moore’s Law

This promise of claytronic technology has become possible because of the ever increasing
speeds of computer processing predicted in Moore's Law (the number of transistors that can
be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit has increased exponentially, doubling
approximately every two years).

Claytronics Vs Nanotechnology
Forget Nanotechnology, Think Claytronics

Videoconferencing is like visiting someone in prison. You talk through a glass wall, but you
can't deal with each other in a meaningful way.
With Claytronics you could fax over an exact copy of your body, which will sit in that
conference room thousands of miles away, mimicking your moves in real time and speaking
with your voice.

Claytronics experts are designing a kind of programmable clay that can morph into a
working 3-D replica of any person or object, based on information transmitted from
anywhere in the world. The clay would be made out of millions of tiny microprocessors
called catoms (for "claytronic atoms"), each less than a millimeter wide. The catoms would
bond electro-statically and be molded into different shapes when instructed by software.

Think of Claytronics as a more workable version of nanotechnology, which in its most

advanced form promises to do the same thing but requires billions of self-assembling

Processors are getting ever smaller, and at the submilli-meter level, they could
communicate and move around independently, thanks to electrostatic forces. This makes
the possibility of Claytronics even greater.

Intel and Carnegie Mellon joined forces in 2005 to cosponsor a project with a team of 25
robotics researchers and computer scientists. Their first breakthrough came when they
developed software that can root out bugs in a system where millions of processors are
working together.

The researchers say they will have a hardware prototype of submillimeter electrostatic
modules in five years and will be able to fax complex 3-D models --anything from
engagement rings to sports cars -- by 2017.

These are the fundamental building blocks for a new world of processing. Intel can see the

That potential could change the world. Who needs a TV when you can watch a live-scale
replica of Super Bowl LXX being fought out by claytronic football players on your coffee
table? Why would a firefighter run into a burning building when he can send a claytronic
version of himself? It's computing in 3-D in everyday life.


1. SHAPE-SHIFTING: Millions of tiny processors called catoms could turn, say, a
laptop into a cell phone. Here's how.

2. Electrostatic forces bind catoms together in laptop form. Some act as antennas,
picking up Wi-Fi.

3. The software tells each Catom where to go. Catoms are spherical and roll around one

4. The catoms arrive in the shape of a cell phone. Antenna catoms are now picking up
3G signals.

Claytronics Hardware
Through hardware engineering projects, researchers in the Carnegie Mellon-Intel
Claytronics Project investigate the effects of scale on micro-electro-mechanical systems and
model concepts for manufacturable, Nanoscale modular robots capable of self-assembly.

Catoms created from this research to populate claytronic ensembles will be less than a
millimeter in size, and the challenge in designing and manufacturing them draws the CMU-
Intel Research team into a scale of engineering where have never been built. The team of
research scientists, engineers, technicians and students who design these devices are testing
concepts that cross the frontiers of computer science, modular robotics and systems

The team of research scientists, engineers, technicians and graduate and undergraduate
students assembled at Carnegie Mellon and in the Pittsburgh Intel Lab to design these
devices is testing the performance of concepts beyond boundaries commonly believed to
prevent the engineering of such a small scale, self-actuating module that combines in huge
numbers to create cooperative patterns of work.

At the current stage of design, Claytronics hardware operates from macroscale designs with
devices that are much larger than the tiny modular robots that set the goals of this
engineering research. Such devices are designed to test concepts for sub-millimeter scale
modules and to elucidate crucial effects of the physical and electrical forces that affect
Nanoscale robots.

Types of Catoms
• 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-

Each section devoted to an individual hardware project provides an overview of the basic
functionality of the device and its relationship to the study of Claytronics. In addition, each
project page is paired with a page of design notes that offer more detail on the steps in
building the device.

As these creative systems have evolved in the Carnegie Mellon-Intel Claytronics Hardware
Lab, they have prepared the path for development of a millimeter scale module that will

represent the creation of a self-actuating Catom - a device that can compute, move, and
communicate - at the Nano-scale.

With the millimeter scale modular robot, the Claytronics Hardware Lab will demonstrate
the feasibility of manufacturing catoms in the quantities needed to produce dynamic 3-
dimensional representations of original objects.

Millimeter Scale Catoms
Realizing high-resolution applications that Claytronics offers requires catoms that are in the
order of millimeters. In this work, we propose millimeter-scale catoms that are
electrostatically actuated and self contained. As a simplified approach we are trying to build
cylindrical catoms instead of spheres.

The millimeter scale Catom consists of a tube and a High voltage CMOS die attached inside
the tube. The tubes are fabricated as double-layer planar structures in 2D using standard
photolithography. The difference in thermal stress created in the layers during the
fabrication processes causes the 2D structures to bend into a 3D tube upon release from the
substrate. The tubes have electrodes for power transfer and actuation on the perimeter.

The high voltage CMOS die is fabricated separately and is manually wire bonded to the
tube before release. The chip includes an AC-DC converter, a storage capacitor, a simple
logic unit, and output buffers.

The Catom moves on a power grid (the stator) that contains rails which carry high voltage
AC signals. Through capacitive coupling, an AC signal is generated on the coupling
electrodes of the tube, which is then converted to DC power by the chip. The powered chip
then generates voltage on the actuation electrodes sequentially, creating electric fields that
push the tube forward.

Software Research
Distributed Computing in Claytronics
In a domain of research defined by many of the greatest challenges facing computer
scientists and roboticists today, perhaps none is greater than the creation of algorithms and
programming language to organize the actions of millions of sub-millimeter scale catoms in
a Claytronics ensemble.

As a consequence, the research scientists and engineers of the Carnegie Mellon-Intel

Claytronics Research Program have formulated a very broad-based and in-depth research
program to develop a complete structure of software resources for the creation and
operation of the densely distributed network of robotic nodes in a claytronic matrix.

A notable characteristic of a claytronic matrix is its huge concentration of computational

power within a small space. For example, an ensemble of catoms with a physical volume of
one cubic meter could contain 1 billion catoms. Computing in parallel, these tiny robots
would provide unprecedented computing capacity within a space not much larger than a
standard packing container. This arrangement of computing capacity creates a challenging
new programming environment for authors of software.

An Internet in a Box – Only Generally Speaking

Comparison with the Internet, however, does not represent much of the novel complexity of
a claytronic ensemble. For example, a matrix of catoms will not have wires and unique
addresses -- which in cyberspace provide fixed paths on which data travels between
computers. Without wires to tether them, the atomized nodes of a claytronic matrix will
operate in a state of constant flux. The consequences of computing in a network without
wires and addresses for individual nodes are significant and largely unfamiliar to the current
operations of network technology.

Languages to program a matrix require a more abbreviated syntax and style of command
than the lengthy instructions that widely used network languages such as C++ and Java
employ when translating data for computers linked to the Internet. Such widely used
programming languages work in a network environment where paths between computing
nodes can be clearly flagged for the transmission of instructions while the computers
remain under the control of individual operators and function with a high degree of
independence behind their links to the network.

In contrast to that tightly linked programming environment of multi-functional machines,

where C++, Java and similar languages evolved, a claytronic matrix presents a software
developer with a highly organized, single-purpose, densely concentrated and physically
dynamic network of unwired nodes that create connections by rotating contacts with the
closest neighbors. The architecture of this programming realm requires not only
instructions that move packets of data through unstable channels. Matrix software must
also actuate the constant change in the physical locations of the anonymous nodes while
they are transferring the data through the network.

Nodes, It’s All about Cooperation

In this environment, the processes of each individual Catom must be entirely dedicated to
the operational goal of the matrix – which is the formation of dynamic, 3-dimensional
shapes. Yet, given the vast number of nodes, the matrix cannot dedicate its global resources
to the micro-management of each Catom. Thus, every Catom must achieve a state of self-
actuation in cooperation with its immediate neighbors, and that modality of local
cooperation must radiate through the matrix.

Software language for the matrix must convey concise statements of high-level commands
in order to be universally distributed. For this purpose, it must possess an economy of
syntax that is uncommon among software languages. In place of detailed commands for
individual nodes, it must state the conditions toward which the nodes will direct their
motion in local groups. In this way, catoms will organize collective actions that gravitate
toward the higher-level goals of the ensemble.

Seamless Ensemble: Form and Functionality

By providing a design to focus constructive rearrangements of individual nodes, software
for the matrix will motivate local cooperation among groups of catoms. This protocol
reflects a seamless union between form and functionality in the actuation of catoms. It also
underscores the opportunity for high levels of creativity in the design of software for the
matrix environment, which manipulates the physical architecture of this robotic medium
while directing information through it.

In a hexagonal stacking arrangement, for example, rows of catoms in one layer rest within
the slight concavities of Catom layers above and below them. That placement gives each
Catom direct communication with as many as 12 other catoms. Such dynamic groupings
provide the stage upon which to program Catom motion within local areas of the matrix.
Such collective actuation will transform the claytronic matrix into the realistic
representations of original objects.

The Research Program

In the Carnegie Mellon-Intel Claytronics Software Lab, researchers address several areas of
software development, which are described in this section.

Programming Languages

Researchers in the Claytronics project have also created Meld and LDP. These new
languages for declarative programming provide compact linguistic structures for
cooperative management of the motion of millions of modules in a matrix. The center
panel above shows a simulation of Meld in which modules in the matrix have been
instructed with a very few lines of highly condensed code to swarm toward a target.

Integrated Debugging

In directing the work of the thousands to millions of individual computing devices in an

ensemble, Claytronics research also anticipates the inevitability of performance errors and
system dysfunctions. Such an intense computational environment requires a comparably
dynamic and self-directed process for identifying and debugging errors in the execution of
programs. One result is a program known as Distributed Watch Points, represented in the
snapshot in the right panel below.

Shape Sculpting

The team's extensive work on Catom motion, collective actuation and hierarchical motion
planning addresses the need for algorithms that convert groups of catoms into primary
structures for building dynamic, 3-dimensional representations. Such structures work in a
way that can be compared to the muscles, bones and tissues of organic systems. In
Claytronics, this special class of algorithms will enable the matrix to work with templates
suitable to the representations it renders. In this aspect of Claytronics development,
researchers develop algorithms that will give structural strength and fluid movement to
dynamic forms. Snapshots from the simulation of these studies can be seen in the right-side
panel at the top of this column and in the left-side panel below.


The team’s software researchers are also creating algorithms that enable catoms to localize
their positions among thousands to millions of other catoms in an ensemble. This relational
knowledge of individual catoms to the whole matrix is fundamental to the organization and
management of Catom groups and the formation of cohesive and fluid shapes throughout
the matrix. A pictorial context for examining the dynamics of localization is represented by
the snapshot of the elephant simulated in the center panel of images below.

Dynamic Simulation

As a first step in developing software to program a claytronic ensemble, the team created
DPR-Simulator, a tool that permits researchers to model, test and visualize the behavior of
catoms. The simulator creates a world in which catoms take on the characteristics that
researchers wish to observe.

The simulated world of DPRSim manifests characteristics that are crucial to understanding
the real-time performance of claytronic ensembles. Most important, the activities of catoms
in the simulator are governed by laws of the physical universe. Thus simulated catoms
reflect the natural effects of gravity, electrical and magnetic forces and other phenomena

that will determine the behavior of these devices in reality. DPRSim also provides a visual
display that allows researchers to observe the behavior of groups of catoms. In this context,
DPRSim allows researchers to model conditions under which they wish to test actions of
catoms. At the top and bottom of this column, images present snapshots from simulations
of programs generated through DPRSim.

Programming Language for Claytronic Ensembles

The Motion of Each Node Is the Object of the Program

One measure then of the scope of innovation posed by Claytronics can be seen in its
requirement for a new branch of programming language to enable communication within a
distributed network of millions of modular robots. This makes the development of
programming languages to control the highly innovative form of distributed computing
implemented for a Claytronics ensemble a key focus of investigation for the Carnegie
Mellon-Intel Claytronics Research Project.

The landscape of systems nanotechnology to which Claytronics introduces the programmer

presents a largely unexplored architecture for the use of computing machines. The structure
of its vast distributed network features an enormous capacity for parallel computing. A
unique feature of this structure is enormous processing power in a confined space. The
intimate relationship among many tiny yet powerful computing machines accentuates a
compelling novelty in the style of programming for a Claytronics ensemble.

Programming thus evolves in Claytronics from the objective of moving information through
static and fixed networks into communication that commands a new dimension in the
expressions of computing machines. From the powerfully confined space of a Claytronics
ensemble, programming languages begin to explore the largely untapped structural fluidity
of millions of tiny robotic modules, which combine their responses to the programmer's
instructions to express a desired state of communication in 3-dimensional space.


Meld addresses the need to write computer code for an ensemble of robots from a global
perspective, enabling the programmer to concentrate on the overall performance of the
matrix while finessing the resource-consuming alternative of writing individual instructions
for every one of the thousands to millions of catoms in the ensemble. This form of logical
programming represents a heuristic solution to the challenge of controlling the action of
such a great number of individual computing nodes.

Concise Instructions to More Machines

From a resource standpoint, as measured in many fewer lines of code, Meld is a language
whose programs produce results comparable to programs that are from 20 to 30 times
longer when written in C++. This efficiency yields a substantial economy of scale in the
operational time and reliability of the matrix. It also reduces the time a programmer needs
to write the code.

Meld provides a reliable paradigm for efficiency in the actuation of cooperative motion
among millions of Nano-scale robots. It does this by declaring positions that individual
robots achieve within clusters by common rules for direct contact. Meld manages motion
as a continuous process of rule-solving. Each robot engages its contacts until it satisfies all
rules it can declare about its physical relationship.

Locally Distributed Predicates (LDP)

While Meld approaches the management of the matrix from the perspective of logic
programming, LDP employs distributive pattern matching. As a further development of
program languages for the matrix, LDP, which stands for Locally Distributed Predicates,
provides a means of matching distributed patterns. This tool enables the programmer to
address a larger set of variables with Boolean logic that matches paired conditions and
enables the program to search for larger patterns of activity and behavior among groups of
modules in the matrix.

While addressing variable conditions related to time, topology and the status of modules,
LDP triggers specific actions in parallel with other expressions governing local groups of
modules. A reactive language, LDP grows from earlier research into the analysis of
distributed local conditions, which has been used to trigger debugging protocols. From this
base, LDP adds language that enables the programmer to build operations that can be used
for more general purposes in the development of the shape of the matrix.

LDP shares with Meld the achievement of dramatically shorter code, the automatic
distribution of the program through the matrix and automatic messaging about conditions in
the matrix.

As it originates in the research to evaluate conditions throughout the ensemble, its strength
is in detection and description of distributed conditions. From this perspective, it programs
locally, focusing upon a bounded number of modules in contact groups while basing its
predicates upon Boolean (if, then) expressions, which expand the basic set of variables that
the programmer can manage throughout the matrix.

Shape Sculpting in Claytronics

Lifting Catoms into the 3RD Dimension

Creating dynamic motion in 3-D poses the ultimate goal of the Carnegie Mellon-Intel
Claytronics Research Project.

A Claytronics designer might demonstrate the complexity of this challenge of forming 3-

dimensional objects from millions of robotic catoms, each less than a millimeter in
diameter, by presenting an ensemble of these tiny spherical devices laid side-by-side on a
flat surface. This arrangement would present a 2-dimensional square, approximately a meter
on each side. This is the organized position that an ensemble could assume before the
application of any external forces. How then to give it a 3-D shape?

With a flow of power into the ensemble, the sensors of adjacent catoms could induce an
electrostatic alignment or latching effect to increase the hold of one Catom to another across
this million-member network of distributed computing devices.

With the fine grain particularity of each individual Catom, the charge in the ensemble might
enhance colors and shadings across the pixilated surface of each Catom to induce subtle
lines and surface perspectives that would appear with the activation of the individual voxels
-- in much the same way that pixels activate images on a video screen.

In this state, moreover, each Catom would possess sufficient micro processing capacity to
implement algorithms that instruct the device to localize its position in relation to other
catoms. This information would enable each Catom to initiate motion and change its
alignment with adjacent catoms until the tiny spheres reach other locations. Thus, the
ensemble would reshape as it creates a new contour in a boundary line or opens a void
inside its boundary while still lying flat.

The Ensemble Rises

All of these changes in form depend for visual effect upon the number of catoms actuated
across the length and width of the ensemble. Yet the state of actuation described thus far,
even as it demonstrates important advances in distributed computing, nanotechnology and
modular robotics, would also highlight the greater challenge of attaining a 3-dimensional
perspective -- in which catoms would rise from the flat surface to represent not only the
outline but also the volume and motion of a fully-shaped object, animal or person.
To gather height and volume from the array of a million catoms lying alongside each other
within a level plane, the ensemble must not only overcome the resistance of local inertia but
also mass sufficient internal force to oppose gravity -- perhaps the most difficult challenge
facing claytronic algorithm designers.

Determining module locations from noisy observations

One of the first tasks for a modular robot is to understand where its modules are located
relative of one to another. This knowledge is very useful: For example, motion planning and
control will often shift many modules from one location to another, and knowing the
module locations helps robot properly allocate the resources. The knowledge of module
locations will also be useful to identify a human user.

In order to determine their locations, the modules need to rely on noisy observations of their
immediate neighbors. These observations are obtained from sensors onboard the modules,
such as short-range IR sensors. Unlike many other systems, a modular robot may not have
access to long distance measurements, such as wireless radio or GPS. Furthermore, the
robot's modules will often form irregular, non-lattice structures. Therefore, the robot needs
to employ sophisticated probabilistic techniques to estimate the location of each its module
from noisy data.

Dynamic Simulation of Claytronic Ensembles

Visualizing the Invisible While Realizing the Unreal

Long before the first ensemble of a million catoms can be created, the designing of these
never-before constructed robotic modules and testing of their performance in real-world
conditions must occur. For this purpose, the research team assembled by Carnegie Mellon
and Intel to create Claytronics technology, created the Dynamic Physical Rendering
Simulator or DPRSim at the Intel Pittsburgh Research Lab on the Carnegie Mellon campus.

Demonstrating the validity of Claytronics requires extensive observation of cooperative

behaviors among Nanoscale modular robots. The research task is made uniquely

challenging by the absence of physical prototypes that can serve as demonstration platforms
for these tiny devices, which are no larger than a grain of sand.

1. Carnegie Mellon University official site:


3. Other information from:

4. Images from: and

*All sites were visited between October 15th-20th 2009*