Programmable matter was the holy grail of modular robots. With this technology, a robot could change shape at will. That meant that they could be hiding somewhere.
(Note: The background section of this page uses most of the words from the modular robots page of Terra Futura to save time.)
The concept of modular robots dates back to the 1970s. There was a concept called quick change in which special modules could be swapped out for a another at the end of a robotic arm. In the 1980s, this concept was extended to the entire robot. The research really began in the 1990s. Scientists searched for ways to connect the modules. Eventually, they would succeed. By the mid-21st century, modular robots were everywhere. However, few people noticed. Modular robots could be disguised as snakes, insects, spiders, etc. Modular robots could change shape in order to go around obstacles. These were crucial in saving the deteriorating infrastructure of the United States. In 2007, the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge collapsed. This highlighted the need to repair the infrastructure of the United States. When modular robots came out, they were quickly put to use to make repairs. This was especially true after World War III when many buildings were damaged in battle. By then, however, modular robots were being miniaturized. Programmable matter was born.
Tech Level: 11-12
By 2050, programmable matter was commonplace. This became possible with catoms. In the early 21st century, catoms were cylinders that worked in two dimensions and connected with the electrostatic force. By the mid-21st century, catoms were spheres that worked in three dimensions and connected by nano-velcro with atomic forces. This revolutionized human life. Furniture could transform into something else. A bed could become a sofa. Chairs could be personalized. Parts of the house could be changed. Electronics were adaptable to all conditions. A car's surface could change color. Or it could self-heal. Tires could adapt for different terrains and weather conditions. Transparent windows could be blocked out for privacy. Children's toys and other objects were highly configurable. Implantable brain-computer interfaces were needed to control the catoms. By the late 21st century, buildings and even humans and entire cities could be simulated this way. This revolutionized communication in much the same way that augmented reality did. This had a profund impact on society.