What does the movie “Terminator 2” have in common with the future of car design?  Surprisingly, a lot more than you may realize.  If you have seen the movie, you know about the shape shifting terminator out to kill John Connor.  This villain can change its shape, reform from molten metal and do just about anything it wants.  Well, it is still science fiction for now, but the people at Carnegie Mellon and Intel are working on something that could bring it to life sooner than you think.

It’s called “Claytronics” and even though it sounds like the evil toy manufacturer from the movie “Sneakers,” it really is a new technology designed to bring us programmable matter.  This means that one day we can have atoms called “catoms” that would combine to form any shape we wanted, much like the molten metal from “Terminator 2.”  Carnegie Mellon and Intel have developed technology that would create tiny computers that can interact, share information, and connect to each other when needed.  Today, they are still too big, but the intent is to miniaturize them with nanotechnology, eventually creating a shape-shifting material.  Designers are also working on programs for these microcomputers that will manage the re-shaping and allow them to communicate.

The demonstration video shows a group of car designers reviewing a model.  When changes are needed, they physically reform the model to any shape.  If the car should be longer, they just give it a tug.  If the roofline needs to be lower, all they do is press on the roof until it matches their needs.  Imagine a world where CAD is brought to real life models, all while micro computers collect, store and share the data on their present form and color.  Everything that is design would immediately transfer from your mind into physical form, and car designers would become sculptors.

It gets even better, where one day the average consumer will be able to make the same changes as the designers.  Imagine you are driving along in your 2025 Ford Taurus, and you need to carry some wallboard.  With just a few adjustments, the car can open up to become a pickup, or on sunny days, it can become a convertible.  You can even imagine a time when you can change that little Ford Taurus to look exactly like that new Rolls Royce sitting next to you, or have all the cars in a community change into bright yellow smart cars.

It doesn’t stop there.  Imagine a time when the phone rings, and when answered, the phone takes the shape of the person on the other end, in 3-D.  Imagine a time when your car folds itself into a block to prevent theft and minimize parking.  How about an item that reforms itself if broken?  I could go on for days on this because the possibilities are endless.

Given time and money, there should be some breakthroughs on Claytronics and Nanotechnology.  Developing the ideas into systems that are small, smarter, more efficient, and more capable could change the way we live.  Having these technologies could also bring out the designer in each of us.

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond and Car Design Review

Videos courtesy of YouTube and CNN – Photos courtesy of ekspressauto.ee