Scientists in Canada successfully sent a text message through the medium of evaporated vodka, unveiling to the world a technological innovation we didn't even know we needed. Instead of invisible electronic and radio signal, it's apparently possible to send data through the air using chemicals, much like the way some animals use scents to "talk" to each other.
The research of Toronto-based Nariman Farsad, Andrew W. Eckford and UK-based Weisi Guo was published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, under the title "Tabletop Molecular Communication: Text Messages Through Chemical Systems," opening the door to a new era of "molecular communication."
According to the patriotic researchers, who transmitted the words "O Canada" in the inaugural text, molecular messages could provide a better alternative to traditional wireless communication technology. York University's Professor Eckford explains:
Chemical signals can offer a more efficient way of transmitting data inside tunnels, pipelines or deep underground structures. For example, the recent massive clog in London sewer system could have been detected earlier on, and without all the mess workers had to deal with, sending robots equipped with a molecular communication system.
York Doctoral Candidate Farsad, who led the experiment, says "we believe we have sent the world's first text message to be transmitted entirely with molecular communication." Farsad continues with details on how the experiment was done, saying his team sent the message by "controlling concentration levels of the alcohol molecules, to encode the alphabets with single spray representing bit 1 and no spray representing the bit 0." The team used a tabletop fan to physically send the message roughly 13 feet.
The authors see a number of possibilities (most of them robotic) for chemical messaging, as they write in the paper's introduction:
At microscopic scales, chemical signalling has been proposed as an effective solution for communication between engineered micro- or nano-scaled devices such as lab-on-a-chip devices and body area sensor networks. At macroscopic scales, use of very primitive molecular communication has been proposed in robotics for distress signalling by defective robots, estimating the size of a swarm of robots (quorum sensing), and as chemical trails for robot guidance.
The researchers published figures demonstrating the process and photographs of their crude materials in PLOS ONE, although we're still not exactly sure where you put the booze.
According to the researchers, this type of molecular transmission is similar to chemical messaging between animals — bees use chemicals in pheromones to communicate danger, and dogs use pheromones in urine to mark their territory.
All images courtesy of PLOS ONE.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.