Our modern world is built on two numbers: Zero and one. Every smartphone, every computer, every car, every cash register — they all rely on complex applications of binary code, essentially nothing more than a very long, very complicated set of instructions to flip billions of switches inside the machines we use in a certain order. We generally use electricity for this, but what if we didn’t need to? What if we could engineer systems that can perform complex tasks, using nothing but chemicals we find in the kitchen and under our sinks? That’s just what a team at Stanford has done, and it’s got some pretty amazing implications for the future.
The concept is simple. An acid, vinegar in this case, and a base, window cleaner, pulse through the system representing one and zero. The current system still uses electronics to “read” the pulses, but there’s no electricity in the communication itself. It’s just chemicals flowing back and forth.
Why build something like this in the first place, beyond the challenge? While the electronics and the electricity we use to power them is commonplace and easy to use on the surface of the Earth, there are situations, like being deep underwater, surrounded by metal, or in the heart of space, where they either may not work or might be too dangerous for humans to use thanks to electromagnetic radiation. It’s also a backup system that won’t get shorted out by solar flares or electromagnetic pulses, which overload and destroy electronic circuits, especially crucial in space missions where such situations would be fatal otherwise.
Needless to say, there are drawbacks. This system won’t be “wireless” by definition. It also has a problem in that chemicals leave behind residues that need to be cleaned out of the system. But in time, this might not just be a neat trick for scientists, it might save the lives of astronauts, underwater explorers, and others.
(via The Verge)