In the movie Super 8, there's a sort of technology that I don't think I've seen before. Part of the plot of the film revolves around an alien. Some of this alien's technology I don't think I've seen before. I'll spoiler the specifics of the question, as the mystery of the alien is central to the story.

The alien's ship, when it broke, dissolved into many small white blocks. As near as I can tell, these blocks, when properly controlled/guided combine and change into the structure of the ship. So the white blocks turn into a metallic hull, a central power-core, and thrusters. They're like a macroscopic version of nanites that can be reconfigured into all manner of other forms of matter.

Is there a name for this type of technology?


This sort of thing was called "wellstone" in Wil McCarthy's books. It also reminds me somewhat of the "inhibitors" from Alastair Reynolds "Revelation Space" universe.

The Wikipedia page "Programmable matter" is relevant.


Is there a name for this type of technology?



Reminds me a lot the replicators of Stargate-SG1, hence the name : auto-replicant.

This technology can also be seen in an Asimov Robots sequel, for which I don't remember the name, and where robots are auto-replicants, have the 3 robotics laws, but don't know what a human is.

  • I believe the borg in Star Trek had something similar as well. – Chad Jun 13 '11 at 14:20
  • First thing I thought of as well. – James Jun 13 '11 at 19:49

What you're describing sounds like an advanced robotic construction system. Nanotechnology, after all, is just robotics at the molecular level.

  • 1
    Only if you ignore the physics – johnc Jun 20 '11 at 3:26

I think it's called "cellular construction"


For me it brought to mind advanced swarm robotics where large numbers of small, limited devices could be bought together to serve ad hoc requirements. In this instance a ship, but perhaps if there had been a successful landing it would have reconfigured itself into a habitat or some form of transportation

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