World’s first molecular text message sent using vodka

Some cities are installing texting zones on the sides of highways to provide a place for safe texting. We hope those texters are using their phones to text rather than the new delivery system discovered by York University researchers: vodka!

Before we dive into the science here, we have an important question. If you could text one phrase using vodka as a medium, what would that phrase be? If you picked “O Canada!” then you’re in good company, as that’s the phrase that first passed through the glorious liquid.

“We believe we have sent the world’s first text message to be transmitted entirely with molecular communication, controlling concentration levels of the alcohol molecules, to encode the alphabets with single spray representing bits and no spray representing the bit zero,” explains Nariman Fasad, a York University doctoral candidate.

While this might seem like an insanely futuristic idea, it’s actually firmly rooted in the animal kingdom. Bees use pheromones (biological chemicals) to spread word of a threat to the hive, and we’ve all seen dogs and cats mark their territory.

Here’s how they did it: they programmed a computer to understand a spray of vodka as a representation of bits and to understand the lack of a spray as zero bits. Then, they sprayed alcohol at the receiver in various patterns. The receiver registered the level of alcohol hitting it as rising or decreasing, and it transformed these sprays into the message “O Canada!”

According to the researchers, “Chemical signals can offer a more efficient way of transmitting data inside tunnels, pipelines or deep underground structures.” As someone who has attempted (and failed) to send many a text while on the Metro, this makes sense. These are places out of the reach of radio waves, making the simple act of texting akin to Sisyphean torture.

Of course, we won’t be using molecular text messaging on our handheld devices anytime soon, but it could offer a way for robots to interact. Much like animals are known to leave messages for one another by marking trees, robots could mark areas with chemical messages that other robots could find.

Via R&D

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