Paper-like programmable matter; a multi-purpose, omni-flexible nanotech effector system still used in many parts of the Terragen sphere

Image from Steve Bowers

Nanoflex consists of a large number of small, triangular tiles linked together by nanoconstructed motors and connector systems. Standard tiles are rarely more than a millimeter along each edge and usually much smaller. Each tile contains a moderately powerful computing node, nanoflywheel energy storage, and a network of small, but powerful, motors and jointed connector arms running along each edge. One face of each tile is coated in programmable matter 3-color light sources, which can be used as either illuminators or pixels for image generation. The opposite face is coated in multicolor 'digital ink' microspheres, able to generate both static and animated text and images with minimal power consumption. Both faces of each tile are able to operate as sensors that can detect and respond to either a stylus or pointing digit.

Nanoflex is normally employed with a large number of tiles linked together to form a continuous sheet. At the smaller tile sizes, such a sheet has the flexibility and feel of good quality paper, but offers a wide range of useful applications:

  • Smart paper, able to display both static and animated images and text from files stored in the onboard memory. A standard sheet of nanoflex is capable of storing the equivalent of over a trillion books or an equivalent quantity of music, video, and multimedia data.
  • A computing and networking resource. The hundreds or thousands of tiles making up a sheet of nanoflex incorporate an equal number of nanocomputers which, in addition to controlling the nanoflex itself, provide a local computing node. The linked tiles of a nanoflex sheet can form a low-power radio transmitter/receiver allowing the sheet to wirelessly network with other computing resources. In addition. the programmable matter backing can operate as a high-density optical transmitter/receiver for high bandwidth communication and file transfers.
  • Omni-flexible effector: Using the motors along their outer edges, a sheet of nanoflex tiles can move against each other and their surroundings to reconfigure themselves into a wide range of useful devices. Depending on circumstances, this can include portable data interface terminals that can bend, flex, change size, and fold up; bots of variable size and shape that can flatten out or roll up for storage, and useful shapes and tools of various sorts ranging from self-assembling storage containers to handheld styli for writing on other sheets of nanoflex.
Nanoflex tiles can release their connections to surrounding tiles, allowing sections of nanoflex to detach from the main group. This may be used for the creation of additional devices or the transfer of secure data between nanoflex sheets. If necessary, a given sheet of nanoflex with an excess of stored energy can link to a sheet that is low on power and provide a partial recharge. In addition, the programmable matter side of a nanoflex sheet can configure itself as a solar collector. However, nanoflex sheets are normally recharged using a small data and power connector that plugs into any compatible outlet.

The use of nanoflex dates back to before the Technocalypse, and although the internal computing, programmable matter, and software systems have all advanced considerably over the intervening millennia, the basic design remains unchanged from that time. While the use of more sophisticated utility fog and angelnet systems greatly reduced the use of nanoflex in the Inner Sphere and core Middle Regions systems, it remains a widely used technology in the further reaches of the galaxy. In the Inner Sphere, the tremendous flexibility, utility, and "longstanding reliability withstanding the test of time" of nanoflex continues to make it particularly popular and widely used within the Terran Federation where it is often given preference over more recent angelnet based systems.

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Development Notes
Text by Todd Drashner

Initially published on 19 January 2007.