Donal Reddington on mass customization, crowdsourcing and digital manufacturing


Intel researching shape-shifting technology

A report in issue 264 (January 2008) of UK computer magazine PC Plus details Intel’s current research in various fields (no online version of this article unfortunately).  While many of the areas covered relate to processors, and as such are outside the scope of this website, one project is very interesting from the point of view of customization:  Intel is working on ‘Dynamic Physical Rendering‘.  This involves not just the shrinking not just of electronic circuits, but the mechanical aspects of systems.  It apparently involves the use of magnetic fields to intelligently manipulate nanonscale particles.
Justin Rattner of Intel is quoted in PC Plus:

“Imagine nanoscale particles that work together, that adhere to one another or don’t adhere to one another under software control.  They can move and change shape.”

The process is contrasted with three dimensional printing (also called digital fabrication).  Whereas digital printing creates a static object with no intelligence, “with dynamic physical rendering  one can imagine this blob sitting on the table that responds to wireless commands, configures itself into different shapes, is capable of locomotion and can draw power from ambient energy.”

What this means is that an object could actually change it’s own shape in real time – science fiction made real.  PC Plus suggest that it will be at least a decade before this research becomes a product.

It almost seems that every month there is some new announcement or development that shrinks the gap between the physical world and the software world.  Now it seems that our most basic assumptions about physical products may need to be re-built from scratch.

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