Stanford researchers attempt vodka-based Internet messaging

Chemical-based texting, using pulses of liquid shooting down a pipe could be an alternative to traditional wireless and cables for Internet of Things, say Stanford researchers

Sending Internet of Things, or IoT messages using liquids, such as vodka or glass cleaner, could replace light as the next go-to network carrier for the Internet.

Pulses of liquid chemicals, replicating the ones-and-zeros of traditional electron-based data streams are better than copper wires, wireless or fiber because they’re cheaper, and aren’t susceptible to the same kind of interference, claim the inventors from Stanford University. Wireless signals, for example, can run into problems among large masses of metals.

Vodka was the liquid of choice for the first of the pH-based messaging tests run by the school, but amusingly failed due to the receiving computer getting “too saturated with vodka to receive more messages,” according to fellow Nariman Farsad, who has been working on the concept.

Household chemicals, like glass cleaner and vinegar may, in fact, be more appropriate, he explains in a Stanford press release.

The system works just like any other binary code-based messaging system, but is dependent on the pH levels in the liquids varying.

The standardized pH numbering scale is a measurement of acidity and basicity of liquids. Something more acidic, such as a lemon, for example, has a lower pH. Pure water is neutral.

Farsad’s contraption shoots the combination pulses of acidic-to-base liquids through “plastic tubes to a small container with a pH sensor. The varying pH levels are then transmitted to a computer that deciphers the encoded message.” The message is initially created by a computer signaling how much of what level of acidic or base liquid to pump along the tubes.

The primitive system could be remarkably cheap and easy to setup, apparently. Household chemicals, and indeed vodka, being available most places. The lack of electrically conductive parts makes the system suitable for use in wet environments, or underwater, too.

The team’s choice of liquids has not been without issue, though. An important criteria is that the pH levels should cancel each other out at the receiving end. The vodka messaging didn’t. The signal has to be separated from noise at the end of the transmission.

“Upgrading from vodka to the acid-base combination was an immense improvement,” the release says. However there are still problems related to chemical residues getting left behind in the pipes. They believe that has to be fixed still.

“It’s just so ‘out there,’ like science fiction,” Stanford collaborator Andrea Goldsmith says in the release.

“Having robots communicate with trails of liquid text, or being able to fall back on chemical communication” if the electrical grid gets knocked out, are among the scenarios the two scientists see their development primed for.

Another conceivable use would be in nanotech, they think. A “chemical-based data exchange could be self-powered, traveling throughout the body harmlessly.” That’s presumably another, yet-to-be-discovered, reason why vodka can’t be used without undesirable consequences.

And indeed current in-body nanotechnology is dependent on wires or short-distance wireless communications. That may not a perfect solution in comparison to Stanford’s neutrally concluding chemicals.

“Chemical messaging could change the way we transmit and receive information. It’s wireless and affordable” and all without electronics,” they say

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

IT Salary Survey: The results are in