I've been stewing in this one all night. Programmable matter. Things that can morph and reshape into other things. Useful things. Imagine working on a connected netbook and then morphing the device into a handheld phone for an incoming call. That's just the start. Imagine having enough of this matter to morph human size objects. Instead of actually being there, people could eventually remotely interact with the environment.
Ok, admittedly this is still a long way away, but not as long as originally thought. Jason Campbell, an Intel researcher based at Carnegie Mellon University, has been working in the project for about four years. Originally his estimates placed marketability 50 years out, but now imagines programmable matter could start to take shape within just a couple of years.
The process is actualized by small spheres called "catoms". They move via electromagnetic or electrostatic forces depending upon their size. Up above is a still from the demo at IDF yesterday. As you can see they are small. Yes, that is a penny next to it. No, we did not get to see anything shape-shift.
The goal is to get these catoms into spheres, so they would roll across each other. Right now we got silicon dioxide hemispheres.
Soon, who knows what we will got. I'm imaging a very confusing future, with "people" turning into desks and chairs or even look-a-like-suits built out of the stuff. By integrating semiconductor technology with nano technology, catoms eventually could be resized to mimic, well… anything made out of matter, I suppose. Let your imagination run wild.