Zakin envisions programmable matter in this way: In the future a soldier will have something that looks like a paint can in the back of his vehicle. The can is filled with particles of varying sizes, shapes and capabilities. These individual bits can be small computers, ceramics, biological systems—potentially anything the user wants them to be. The soldier needs a wrench of a specific size. He broadcasts a message to the container, which causes the particles to automatically form the wrench. After the wrench has been used, the soldier realizes that he needs a hammer. He puts the wrench back into the can where it disassembles itself back into its components and re-forms into a hammer. “That is the essence of programmable matter,” he says.
Programmable Matter program: www.darpa.mil/dso/thrusts/physci/newphys/program_matter/index.htm
DARPA Chemical Robots program: www.darpa.mil/dso/thrusts/materials/multfunmat/chembots/index.htm
DARPA Chemical Communications program: www.darpa.mil/dso/thrusts/physci/newphys/chemcom/index.htm