Posted by: East and West | 2009/06/26

Audio. Video. Pario!

In the July 2009 issue of Motor Trend, Frank Markus in his “technologue” column writes about the future of communication: 3D fax. He talked about our progression from audio to video, and now to pario.

Pario is the ability to electronically send a three-dimensional facsimile of an object in real time. Several steps ahead of 3D holography or virtual reality projection, pario would generate a synthetic reality that allows recipients to touch and manipulate the solid object they receive. Unlike holograms and virtual reality images, there would be no need for special goggles, gloves or projectors.

Carnegie Mellon University calls the technology claytronics and Intel calls it dynamic physical rendering. Millions of microdevices – claytronic atoms or catoms, for short – will assemble themselves into macroscale objects. The catoms could have LCD or LED surfaces, emitting light and color to make the model more lifelike.

Claytronics research – led by Seth Goldstein and Todd Mowry at Carnegie Mellon – combines the work on microscale computing devices and the work on telepresence. According to, the technology could be a means of holding “virtual meetings with apparent physical presence.” New Scientist says it’s not teleportation, but it’s the next best thing.

The application possibilities are mind-blowing: product design, telemedicine, forensics, online sales. Claytronics could break down the barrier of the customer’s need to touch a product before buying it. How many of us stop just short of buying that one item because we don’t know how it feels in our hand or if the color is just right?

Philips Breeze headset, from iTech News Net

Philips Breeze headset, from iTech News Net

Allow me to fantasize for a moment…

It’s the year 2020. My client is launching a new mobile communicator earpiece. We send claytronic models to otologists and audio technologists for evaluation. They respond to my client models with their recommended product changes. My client implements the design changes, then brings the earpiece to market. My client’s targeted customers use pario to try before they buy. They send my client a model with personal specifications, which are implemented in a customized earpiece.

…but bring me back to today.

Pario is still an infant technology. The first proof-of-concept catoms are the size of marbles, and their mass and the magnets used to connect them restrict them to two-dimensional forms. The next generation will be the size of BB pellets and will likely weigh less than a gram, producing low-resolution 3D pario. And it will be one step closer to making Captain Kirk’s order – “Energize!” – a reality.


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