Programmable matter

Main UBFC partners: FEMTO-ST (DISC department), Labex ACTION, Grand Besançon Agglomeration, company SilMach SA

Other key partners: PSA Peugeot Citröen (CIFRE on Big data and connected vehicles), Intel, University of Carnegie Mellon, Hong-Kong Polytechnic University and IRISA, University of Tokyo, Université de Rennes 1/IRISA, LIMMS and LAAS/CNRS

Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) have reached a position of design maturity and are therefore ready for the mass-production of micro-scale devices. Recent examples of mass-produced MEMS include accelerometers, inertial measurement unit (IMU) that are now integrated in airbag systems as well as in most of the recent smartphones or laptops, bubble ejection systems of inkjet printers or digital micro-mirror devices (DMD), a technology used for projection displays.

As can be seen from these examples, MEMS can be used either as single elements (accelerometers, IMU) or they can be grouped and can act together to reach a global goal (DMD). The latter is called distributed MEMS. The main interest of MEMS is that they can be mass-produced, which is true for single MEMS as well as for distributed ones (DiMEMS). It is therefore necessary to think of scalability up to millions of units when evoking distributed MEMS. Due to their small size, their low cost and the fact that they can be mass-produced, millions of units can be used in a very small space.

Distributed intelligent MEMS systems will be composed of thousands or even millions of systems which will raise new scientific challenges in micro-fabrication, integrated electronics, control and computer science.

To meet these challenges, the FEMTO-ST institute and the Labex ACTION are actively part of several key international projects.

Claytronics is an abstract future concept that combines modular robotics, systems nanotechnology and computer science to create individual nanometer-scale computers called Claytronics atoms, or catoms, which can interact with each other to form tangible 3D objects that a user can interact with. This idea is more broadly referred to as programmable matter.
Claytronics has the potential to greatly affect many areas of daily life, such as telecommunication, human-computer interfaces, and entertainment.

Indeed, the objects created from programmable matter will be scalable to life size or larger. They will be likewise reducible in scale. Such objects will be capable of continuous, 3-D motion. Representations in programmable matter will offer to the end-user an experience that is indistinguishable from reality.

© The Internet of things by FEMTO-ST

© The Internet of things by FEMTO-ST

Claytronic representations will seem so real that users will experience the impression that they are dealing with the original object.
To understand the future of claytronics, watch the concept video [.mov] created by Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center

2Claytronics project has been initiated by Intel and Carnegie Mellon University and then co-leaded with FEMTO-ST.
The main simulator for Claytronics, called VisibleSim (See Figure) has been developed by the Labex ACTION. It is the first online simulator for modular robots and multicore systems.


Coordination and Computation in Distributed Intelligent MEMS (CO2Dim project)
CO2Dim involves researchers from FEMTO-ST, Hong-Kong Polytechnic University and Université de Rennes 1/IRISA.

Timed coordination in a distributed system is a complex problem which is even harder in DiMEMS systems due to their size. A coordinated actuation will face many issues raised by network latency, local clock skew, CPU load and faults. In CO2Dim, FEMTO-ST develops a complete programming environment able to cope with these problems. This environment comprises a new language, a compiler, a simulator and a debugger. This new programming language is based on a joint development of programming and control capabilities so that actuated synchronization can easily be programmed and can scale up to millions of units.

A smart micro-conveyor to handle and sort micro objects

The Smart Blocks projects involves researchers from FEMTO-ST, LIMMS and LAAS/CNRS.
The project is supported by Grand Besançon Agglomeration and the company SilMach SA (France), in cooperation with the University of Tokyo.

Conveyors are usually designed as monolithic entities solving one problem at one time. A standard conveying belt is able to convey jumbled objects but it can neither precisely position nor sort them. This lack of functionality and modularity multiplies the different kinds of systems to be installed around the conveying belt, thus raising problems of maintenance, complexity of the production line, etc. A conveyor made of small modules, blocks, will allow the integration of different kinds of functionalities inside one single conveyor and will reduce the design complexity. Besides, having specialized blocks and modularity decreases the complexity of each block which makes them easier and cheaper to produce.

Monolithic design fits the need of fixed types of environments and/or objects. If, for some external reasons, the environment of the conveyor changes, it has to be adapted or even replaced by another model. Flexibility is a key issue in the development of future production lines. A reconfigurable conveyor would answer this problem, but a self-reconfigurable conveyor would optima as it would allow a good reactivity on the part of the system and take into account the capabilities of available blocks.

Finally, all these problems have to be solved with a new type of conveyor while keeping the most important feature of older ones, that is, speed of conveyance. This speed of conveyance has an important impact on the whole architecture as conveying is not the only task to be performed. Sorting objects with high-speed conveyance system needs fast identification as well as fast decision.

The objective of the Smart Blocks project is to propose a MEMS-based modular and reconfigurable surface for fast conveying of product whose aim is to tackle all these problems in order to increase the efficiency of future production lines.

Sans-titre-1Design and fabrication of a monolithic micro conveyor on silicon
composed of:
• A MEMS layer composed of thermal and independant ciliary microactuators that enable the simultaneous handling and rotation of multiple objects,
• A CMOS Integrated Circuit (integrated intelligence),
• Micro-optical sensors for detection and sorting of objects (shape recognition).


Advantages provided by such embedded and industrialized devices :

  • Higher degree of integration in the final structure (versus external electronics),
  • Reduction of the design, production and maintenance costs compared to traditional electronics,
  • Weight reduction,
  • Energy saving

Contact :

Some key publications

Distributed Intelligent MEMS: Progresses and Perspectives.
Julien Bourgeois and Seth Copen Goldstein.
IEEE Systems Journal, 9(3):1057–1068, September 2015

Energy-Aware Parallel Self-reconfiguration for Chains Microrobot Networks
Hicham Lakhlef, Julien Bourgeois, Hakim Mabed, and Seth Copen Goldstein
Journal of Parallel and Distributed Computing, 75:67–80, 2015

New applications for MEMS modular robots using wireless communications
Nicolas Boillot, Dominique Dhoutaut, and Julien Bourgeois.
IEEE Systems Journal, PP(99):1–13, January 2015

A New Concept of Planar Self-Reconfigurable Modular Robot for Conveying Microparts.
Benoît Piranda, Guillaume J. Laurent, Julien Bourgeois, Cédric Clévy, and Nadine Le Fort-Piat. Mechatronics, 23(7):906–915, October 2013.

Lastest UBFC publication liked to complex computing :

Efficient and cryptographically secure generation of chaotic pseudorandom numbers on GPU
By: Guyeux, Christophe; Couturier, Raphael; Heam, Pierre-Cyrille; et al.
JOURNAL OF SUPERCOMPUTING  Volume: 71   Issue: 10   Pages: 3877-3903   Published: OCT 2015