Researchers consistently look to nature to perfect existing technology or even discover new methods of engineering. Some of the products that you use on a daily basis have derived their designs and even functionality from mother nature.
Recently scientists from McMaster University developed a simple and exciting new form of computing by shining patterned bands of light and shadows through different facets of a polymer cube and reading the combined results that emerge.
Similar to the way a plant would react and moves toward sunlight or a cuttlefish would intuitively change the color of its skin, the cube is able to react intuitively to the light in the same way. The method could usher in an entirely new era in computing.
Computing Using Light
With the new shining polymer cube, researchers were able to use their new computer to perform simple addition and subtraction functions. As stated by chemistry graduate student Kalaichelvi Saravanamuttu, an associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology whose lab focuses on ideas inspired by natural biological systems:
"These are autonomous materials that respond to stimuli and do intelligent operations. We're very excited to be able to do addition and subtraction this way, and we are thinking of ways to do other computational functions."
Published in the research journal, Nature Communications, the new form of computing holds the promise of eventually being used to be able to complete more complex and useful functions alongside neural networks, the foundation of modern machine learning and artificial intelligence.
What is even more impressive with this new form of computing is that it does not require any power source, it is highly localized and is completely within the visible spectrum. Part of a branch of chemistry called nonlinear dynamics; it uses materials designed and manufactured to produce specific reactions to light.
How does it work? Layers of stripes of light shine through the top and side of a tiny glass case holding the amber sized, dice-sized polymer. The polymer moves from its starting state of a liquid to and transforms into a gel.
Then a neutral carrier beam passes through the back toward a camera that reads the result as “ refracted by the material in the cube, whose components form spontaneously into thousands of filaments that react to the patterns of light to produce a new three-dimensional pattern that expresses the outcome.”
Currently, the team is going to experiment with the new computer and build materials with more sophisticated responses.