Come on in: the water is not only fine, it’s pretty amazing. Engineers at Stanford University have created the first step in a whole new class of computers that rely on the unique physics of moving water droplets. This computer wasn’t designed to rival your laptop or replace the processor in your smartphone, though. Unlike familiar computing devices which manipulate information, the Stanford computer is intended to create new ways to move physical matter.
The computer doesn’t look like one you’d recognize. Manu Prakash, assistant professor of bioengineering, and his students designed the computer to its functions, not to form. Engineers arranged a collection of T and I-shaped metal pieces on a flat surface reminiscent of a Pac-Man play field. The tiny metal pieces affect the shape of the magnetic field generated by the surrounding electromagnetic coils, and the miniscule droplets of iron-based liquid are controlled by magnetism. What this new computer does have in common with the bit-processing devices we know and love/hate is that it’s also based on logic and control.
Instead of manipulating and moving information, the Stanford team created this machine specifically for the purpose of pushing computing forward into a new era, where unfolding possibilities of applications can be considered. The team is working now to reduce the scale of the computer, making impossible small processes not only possible, but precisely controlled. Without offering specifics, Prakash said this water-based computer will enable them to “learn to manipulate matter faster… in a fundamentally new way.”
Images and video via Stanford University