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The crushable computer performs calculations depending on how you crush it

A computer made of rubber blocks with veins of a silver-rubber compound performs simple calculations when crushed

Technology


24 August 2022

This soft computer can subtract two numbers

Carlos El Helu

The cube-shaped soft computers can perform different calculations depending on how they are squashed. The devices could be used for robots that respond to physical stimuli.

ryan hame at Pennsylvania State University and his colleague developed a technique for combining rows of rubber blocks that have lines of a silver-rubber compound running through them. The different configurations of the blocks act as different circuits, which when combined and connected to electricity form a computer that can perform particular calculations.

In one version of the computer, the team set it up to add two numbers. A user would then tell the computer what numbers to add by squishing the component blocks left or right, connecting some of the previously untouched silver rubber lines in such a way as to encode the numbers in binary. The team connected a digital screen (not crushable) to the computer to show the result of the calculation.

The researchers also created soft computers that could multiply two numbers or compare them to determine which is greater.

Ryan Hayward at the University of Colorado Boulder says crushable computers wouldn’t beat conventional computers by being faster or solving harder problems, but could lead to soft robots that make decisions based on what they touch in their environment, he says.

In the future, Harne envisions a soft computer that is built into a building. He might “decide” to repair the building after a crumbling chunk of rock puts pressure on him.

Harne says his team is working on fine-tuning the computer’s “sense of touch” so that it can take input beyond binary, for example by encoding different crush forces to different values.

Magazine reference: Nature, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05004-5

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