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The Scale of Claytronics

Reaching across the present frontier for computing and micro-electro-mechanical systems, creators of claytronics technology seek pioneering advances on two distinctive scales of building engineered systems -

♦ The scale of the extremely small, which will be embedded in the physical hardware of the sub-millimeter catom, the primary building block of claytronic ensembles, and
♦ The scale of the extremely numerous, which will be embodied in the millions of catoms that populate a claytronic ensemble.
To integrate these two scales into an engineered claytronic ensemble, the Carnegie Mellon-Intel Claytronics Research Project employs the design principle of the Ensemble Axiom. This principle of ensemble design at extreme scale pushes research toward three goals:
♦ To create the tiniest modular robots as micro-electro-mechanical systems
♦ To conceive the linguistic framework for software programming that can translate commands efficiently in densely packed networks of distributed computing, and
♦ Design program algorithms that guide the actuation of modular robots in the construction of three-dimensional objects

As one example of its application , the ensemble axiom inspires the engineering of "motion without moving parts," an application of ensemble design in planar catoms, modular robots that use electromagnetic energy to self-actuate in a mode of cooperative motion.

The ensemble principle or axiom also guides the design of software.  In many robotic systems, algorithms of motion draw upon high-dimensional search or gradient-based methods of motion analysis to anticipate a module's many conceivable moves and formulate case-by-case responses. Applied to a million catoms in a claytronic ensemble, that process of control would require an impossibly large consumption of computing resources.  Programming languages for claytronics focus on simpler instructions that allow each node to analyze and respond to its immediate state without relying on omniscient top-down controls.

Some of the amazing possibilities of this dynamic technology for the physical rendering of electronic information are explored in this poster presentation.