Rubber Computer Performs Simple Calculations When Squashed

By Jay Soni

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A computer built using blocks of rubber with streaks of a rubber-silver compound could perform simple calculations when squashed.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have developed a type of soft cube-shaped computer that responds to being squeezed. The computer was built by combining a row of blocks of rubber that have lines of a silver-rubber compound running through them.

Squishable computer |  Courtesy of Charles El Helou

Different configurations of these blocks give rise to different circuits and when combined and connected to electricity allows the device to perform mathematical calculations. Researchers believe these computers can be used for robots that respond to physical stimuli.

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One version of the computer was able to add to numbers. This was achieved by squishing the component blocks to the left or to the right, connecting some of the silver-rubber lines that didn’t touch before in such a way as to encode the numbers in binary. The result was obtained on a non-squishable display.

Although the technology is unlikely to replace the traditional computer device or can be proved to be doing any faster calculations. Ryan Harne and his colleagues, researchers at Pennsylvania State University, expect the technology to be used in robotics, where soft robots could make decisions based on what they touch in their environment.

Ryan Hayward at the University of Colorado Boulder imagines that the technology could be applied to integrate a computer into a building. In this scenario, the soft could “decide” to repair it after a crumbling piece of rock applies pressure to it.

Harne and his colleagues are currently working on fine-tuning the computer’s “sense of touch” so that it can take inputs beyond the binary, for example by having it encode different squishing strengths into different values.


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