You know those scary movies where machines transform from one shape into another, moments before they kill you. By now you should not be surprised to know, the pentagon is already building these monsters in their effort to kill you someday.
They already have a name for it, programmable matter. This programmable matter is or will be miniature machines, very likely with its own central processor, locomotive, memory, and communication system. The rest of the operation is only a matter of method. These projects are funded under the Pentagon’s DARPA
program, which is currently five months into its second phase. Their hope is that by next spring, they could build a few primitive programmable objects.
Imagine it! Someday you could drive around town in a muscle car and at the mere hint of a storm, instantly transform it into a sports utility vehicle. The Pentagon wants it for other reasons. You have a villain held up in a bunker, why risk your life trying to seize it. Pour a cup of mercury like nano machines at the entrance, and they will find their way in and have a party with the occupants.
One team from Harvard University is pursuing a strategy of a generalized Rubik’s Cube; that can fold into all sorts of shapes. The team from M.I.T is trying self-organizing origami. Needless to say, this engineering is proving to be very mathematically challenging.
My advice to them, many new technologies fail simply due to engineers failing to account for everything. While this can never be eliminated, you can build your machines to be as simple as possible.