Intel teases shape-shifting programmable matter

Intel teases shape-shifting programmable matter

Summary: Intel CEO Justin Rattner teased his Intel Developer Forum audience with technology of the not-so-disant-future that could take an object design of any imaginable shape, 'hit the print command,' and see the matter take shape.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA--Mobile phones in future could be thumb-sized in pockets, and in practically an instant, be effortlessly transformed into PDA-sized devices to send e-mail.

In the final keynote of the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) Thursday, Justin Rattner, Intel's chief technology officer, shed some light on work around programmable matter, as he teased the audience with what Intel believes would apply as technology in the next four decades.

The idea of programmable matter, he explained, revolves around tiny glass spheres with processing power and photovoltaic for generating electricity to run the tiny circuitry. These particles called catoms would move relative to one another via electrostatic.

The concept of programmable matter can be thought of as "the ultimate form of digital printing", Rattner told ZDNet Asia Wednesday in an interview. "You literally could make an object of any imaginable shape, or design an object of any imaginable shape, and simply 'hit the print command' and the matter would take that shape.

"[The late] Arthur C. Clarke (famed British author and inventor) had this wonderful quote: 'Any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic.' And that's what programmable matter is--it's a technology so advanced it might as well be magic," he said.

This particular technology, though, is far from being an illusion--Intel's scientists and engineers, who have been laboring in exploratory research, have come up with early prototypes at the centimeter and millimeter scale, according to Rattner, who is also senior fellow and vice president of the corporate technology group at Intel. "And we'll go from millimeters to microns, I guess, some time over the next five to 10 years."

Jason Campbell, senior staff research scientist at Intel Research, gave a broad idea during Rattner's Thursday keynote just how disruptive the technology could be to users' daily lives--by replacing the electronic devices that people carry. Size is no longer an issue--the device can take the form of a wristband or thumb-drive, and stretched to a larger size to answer a call or send off an e-mail.

Programmable matter can be used in healthcare, to provide 3D visualization, said Campbell. A video screened during the keynote showed programmable matter also being used in automobile design, where a group of executives at a meeting tweaked a car model, such as by pulling it to make it longer.

Campbell shared that when he first started working on programmable matter, he had the impression that it would take several decades to fulfill. But with the progress made, he is now convinced that it could be realized in "a couple more years". But, Rattner pointed out, there is still a lot of work to be done. There are "all sorts" of design and mechanical questions, such as the amount of energy it takes for the particles to move relative to one another.

"The programming questions are even more profound; people are struggling to program four cores or eight cores, and when Larrabee comes out, several dozens of cores," he added. "How would you program a million or a billion pieces of programmable matter? What does programming even mean?"

Wirelessly transmit power
In his keynote, Rattner also pointed out that transmitting power should be as easy as transmitting information, following which he showed a set-up from out of Intel's research lab in Seattle, of two copper coils within about two feet of each other. One coil acted as the power transmitter, causing the bulb on the other coil to light up through magnetic coupling.

Intel’s Justin Rattner and Michael Garner talk about materials and processes that will be used in the next 40 years to increase chip performance and advance production.

Research lab intern Alanson Sample, who presented the demo, said the around 60-watt transfer had an efficiency of 75 percent. Rattner said the next step would be to miniaturize the coils, so that a demo of a laptop being charged wirelessly can be shown.

"Wouldn't it be nice sometime in the future, if we can get rid of the cords…you wouldn’t have a battery in the sense you do now.

"As you move into these fields, you'd very quickly power up your device--literally in a matter of seconds--and it'd be good for several hours of operation with the idea that some time in the next several hours you'd find another wireless power source," said Rattner. "They'll be built into the tables or into the walls, and they will just keep you going."

Vivian Yeo of ZDNet Asia reported from the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, California.

Topics: Software Development, Collaboration, Hardware, Intel, Mobility

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  • Where's my wireless shoe phone?

    Having a shoe phone with a cord really sucks.
    Marcos El Malo
    • humor

      Uh, that's called a shoe lace. Next time try a loafer shoe phone.
  • Message has been deleted.

  • RE: Intel teases shape-shifting programmable matter

  • And in .....

    Other news ....

    Joe Geek has taken a FireLog size of programmable matter and created his OWN version of Pamela lee Anderson ....
    • Medical Uses

      I agree, such medical uses will far outweigh having cordless
      gadgets. Imagine not just having Pam, but also a prosthetic
      "erector set" with which to enjoy her. Pfizer will go out of
      Marcos El Malo
  • RE: Intel teases shape-shifting programmable matter

    "Wouldn't it be nice sometime in the future, if we can get rid of the cords?"

    ah ah Nikola Tesla did it 80 years ago!!!
  • RE: Intel teases shape-shifting programmable matter

    I'm sure wireless power is completely harmless, with nothing to worry about!
    David Gerard
  • RE: Intel teases shape-shifting programmable matter

    A weapon of mass destruction! Imagine a town's or country's water supply polluted with this stuff. Nobody knows any better until the perpetrator pushes a button.

    People blow up, food blows up, water supplies block up, engines fail etc, etc.

    Not that I think like that.
  • Replication in star trek is here

    This will turn into the technology that we can arrange atoms so things turn into food :)
    No more hunger, no more poverty. Just get a replicator.
    • Replication in star trek is here...

      ...sounds more like another technology that allows us to eat our planet (literally this time) faster than ever before and thus hurtles us evermore faster towards self-annihilation.

      Damn and it was sounding so good in a typically technology will solve all man's problems kind of way.
  • Wirelessly transmit power... for Transport

    No more need for full-up stations (for gas, electricity or any other fuel). Transport machines (cycles, cars, trucks, flying craft?) could be powered "on the move" as they pass near charging stations while in motion.
  • Nothing to worry about

    I'm sure magnetic induction in the kilowatt range is <a href="">absolutely mostly harmless</a> and nothing to worry about!
    David Gerard
  • Sustaining an EM field takes POWER and MONEY

    [i]"They'll be built into the tables or into the walls, and they will just keep you going."[/i]

    I suppose, if a company feels the cost of electricity to maintain these fields is paid for by the business it creates, you might have some interest.

    And I suppose if people are used to getting any kind of magnetic device wiped out (like a credit card, or maybe hard drive) you might find a useful application.

    Oh, and if you don't mind your PDA, cell phone, WiFi access all being non-functional at the same time.

    But seriously, doesn't anybody grasp the impact on technology of powerful electromagnetic fields??
    • Erm...

      It's an EM Field, not EM Pulse.

      PDA, Cellphone, Wifi are unaffected as they don't use magnetic discs. Hard disks, MP3 players (the big ones), etc, also shouldn't be affected unless the field is also strong enough to rip an iron ring off your finger.
    • actually low power

      tesla coils are high-voltage, low amperage devices that actually dont use much energy. But, if they are very common than yes, they would add up.
    • Not really

      Sustaining an EM field only takes energy if there's something in the field to take away the energy. This is only really caused by the wiring of the transmitter and the field interacting with stray metallic (conducting) objects nearby. With proper design, efficiency and losses can be on par with your standard wall wart you leave plugged in when you're not charging your phone or PDA.

      Hard drives are hard to demagnetize. There are already powerful magnets in the motors for these drives. Don't worry about it. Same goes for credit cards. I've put huge rare earth disc magnets in my pockets (pull force of ~200 lbs) and my credit cards still work fine.

      Most mobile devices (PDA, phone, camera) don't even use magnetic storage. Flash memory won't be hurt by these fields.

      The electric field strength of these fields is thousands of times less than the breakdown field strength of air. Assume 60W over a 25 sq. cm surface (say for a laptop with a charging unit the size of a very small cell phone). This is a power density of 24 kW/m^2. The electric field strength here would be 3 kV/m. It takes 3300 kV/m to cause an arc through air. That's a safety factor of over 1000.

      If you increase the frequency of the delivered power, you're even less likely to have an effect on permanent magnetic storage (credit cards and hard drives), as these don't respond to fields of high frequency. As long as you keep the frequencies out of the communication bands of your devices, you won't notice any problems.

      It sounds scary and all, but if you do the math and think about the physics, it's pretty safe.
    • But, even if it does take power...

      We are talking about implementing the technology on a large scale in a decade from now. By that time, the big experiments like LHC and Nuclear Fusion may provide us with so much energy that we don't even need to think about power problems, and I guess with so much electricity lying around, the government will supply it for free...
  • shades of Tesla

    Didn't Mr. Tesla do something similar with an induction coil and light bulbs?

    Terry Thomas
    Atlanta, Georgia USA
  • RE: Intel teases shape-shifting programmable matter

    Dune fans will recognize here the beginning seeds of the Butlerian Jihad and the Machine Wars.

    The "flowplaz" of the evil robot Erasmus and the moving buildings of the Evermind Omnius.

    " Do our enemies occur naturally, or do we create them through our own actions?"

    Quoted from a Bene Geserit leader in " Hunters of Dune"