December 20, 2013
Researchers Send First Vodka-Based Text Message
An electronic system that sends text messages through evaporated alcohol wafting through the air from one point to another has been developed by researchers at York University, Canada and University of Warwick, UK.
Using the device, the researchers successfully sent the message “O Canada” from the Canadian National Anthem across a distance of twelve feet using just vodka sprayed into the air.The technique can help send messages in harsh environments where wireless signals fail, such as underwater, in pipelines or even to target drugs within the human body, the researchers believe.
"Imagine sending a detailed message using perfume – it sounds like something from a spy thriller novel, but in reality it is an incredibly simple way to communicate,” said Weisi Guo, co-author and University of Warwick researcher.
The device works by converting the letters in the text messages into binary numbers, and in turn into puffs of alcohol.
Each letter in the text message is converted into a five-bit binary number. The letter “A,” for instance is represented by the binary number “11000.” Alcohol is sprayed into the air depending on these binary numbers: the bit signal 1 is represented by a single spray and 0 by no spray. Across the table, a receiver puts together the jumbled sprays with different alcohol concentrations wafting towards it and decodes the message.
The device – made up of a small-range transmitter and receiver – is simple, cheap (costing around $100) and takes up very little energy.
Sending messages using chemicals is not new – insects and plants often talk to each other using chemical signals. Bees use pheromones to send SOS signals. The smell of freshly-cut grass, for instance, is the smell of volatile chemicals spewed into the air by plants warning others that they are being attacked.
So far, however, only a few studies have come up with a way to mimic this chemical signaling method to send long and continuous messages.
"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," said Andrew Eckford, senior author and York University researcher.
Although the chemical signaling system won’t exactly replace conventional wireless communication, it can help transmit data in places where the latter is ill-adapted, the researchers point out.
"Potential targeted applications include wireless monitoring of sewage works and oil rigs. This could prevent future disasters such as the bus-sized fatberg found blocking the London sewage networks in 2013, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010,” Guo stated.
The communication system would also find use in futuristic applications such as tiny sensors or nano-robots used to detect diseases or carry drugs inside the human body. It could also provide a cheap and efficient platform to study and test for other ways to use chemical signaling, the researchers believe.