'Programmable matter' one day could transform itself into all kinds of look-alikes. …(See also www.post-gazette.com/downloads/20050516jh_claytronics.pdf.)
Interacting with a faintly glowing replica of a person might seem a little creepy, Bryant [one of the researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University] admitted. Then again, 'I'm sure people of 200 years ago would be pretty creeped out if you told them about radio and television.'
Each of the individual robots comprising these people or shapes would be a 'claytronic atom,' or catom. Likely spherical in shape, a catom would have no moving parts. Rather, it would be covered with electromagnets to attach itself to other catoms; it would move by using the electromagnets to roll itself over other catoms.
The catoms' surfaces would have light-emitting diodes to allow them to change color and photo cells to sense light, allowing the collective robot to see. Each would contain a fairly powerful, Pentium-class computer."
And in a related story from Wired News: Eggheads Invent Tele-Petting
Researchers have developed a cybernetic system to allow physical interaction over the internet. The system allows touching and feeling of animals or other humans in real time, but it's first being tried out on -- chickens.