The DPR project was begun at Carnegie Mellon University, spearheaded by Seth Goldstein, an Associate Professor in the Computer Science Department. The project is the brainchild of Goldstein and Todd Mowry, Director of Intel Research Pittsburgh, who first discussed the idea at a conference in 2002. Mowry wanted to improve on two-dimensional videoconferencing, and Goldstein was interested in nanotechnology. They decided to merge their interests. They determined that, by taking advantage of advances in nanoscale assembly, they might create human replicas from ensembles of tiny computing devices that could sense, move, and change color and shape, enabling more realistic videoconferencing. The same meeting environment, with people and objects, could appear at each location, in real form or as replicas. A movement or interaction at any location would be reproduced at all of them. Every meeting could be face-to-face.
What began as a novel idea has evolved into an ambitious collaboration involving almost 30 researchers. Jason Campbell, a senior researcher at Intel Research Pittsburgh, is the Principal Investigator for the DPR project. Goldstein is leading the project for Carnegie Mellon, and Mowry provides additional leadership. The project is being funded by Intel, Carnegie Mellon University, the National Science Foundation, and the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
Creation of claytronics technology is the bold objective of collaborative research between Carnegie Mellon and Intel, which combines nano-robotics and large-scale computing to create synthetic reality, a revolutionary, 3-dimensional display of information. The vision behind this research is to provide users with tangible forms of electronic information that express the appearance and actions of original sources.
The objects created from programmable matter will be scalable to life size or larger. They will be likewise reducible in scale. Such objects will be capable of continuous, 3-D motion. Representations in programmable matter will offer to the end-user an experience that is indistinguishable from reality. Claytronic representations will seem so real that users will experience the impression that they are dealing with the original object.
Claytronic emulation of the function, behaviour and appearance of individuals, organisms and objects will fully mimic reality - and fulfill a well-known criterion for artificial intelligence formulated by the visionary mathematician and computer science pioneer Alan Turing.
In 1950, in a ground-breaking article, Turing asked "Can Machines Think?" and offered a criterion to "refute anyone who doubts that a computer can really think." His proposal was that "if an observer cannot distinguish the responses of a programmed machine from those of a human being, the machine is said to have passed the Turing Test."
Although the Turing Test remains a robust source of discussion among those who devote their lives to artificial intelligence, philosophy and cognitive science, claytronics conceives of a technology that will surpass the Turing Test for the appearance of thought in the behaviours of a machine.
The Carnegie Mellon Intel Claytronics Research Project combines two principal paths to create technology that will represent information in dynamic, life-like 3-D forms --
♦ Engineering design and testing of modular robotic catom prototypes that will be suitable for manufacturing in mass quantities
♦ Creation of programming languages and software algorithms to control ensembles of millions of catoms
The Carnegie Mellon-Intel Claytronics Research Project addresses many unique and challenging aspects of micro-robotics engineering and distributed network computing. It approaches these challenges with a focus fixed upon the design of the simplest feasible systems consistent with the overall goal of the reliable and robust performance of claytronic ensembles. This approach seeks to enable claytronics technology to develop in concert with minimization of manufacturing costs and fabrication complexity.
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 analyse and respond to its immediate state without relying on omniscient top-down controls.