Midland scientists have helped to send the world’s first text message using the medium of vodka.
Experts at the University of Warwick have developed a technique that allows messages to be communicated through molecules – in this case from a bottle of vodka, but it could be any fluid.
The discovery stands to revolutionise communications by allowing the transmission of messages and data in challenging environments such as tunnels, pipelines, under water and even within the body.
It means people in tunnels, pipelines or in underwater environments – who currently cannot communicate because electromagnetic waves cannot be used – could feasibly transmit to each other in the future.
Researchers at the University of Warwick have developed the capability to transform any generic message into binary signals, which in turn is ‘programmed’ into evaporated alcohol molecules to demonstrate the potential of molecular communications.
Dr Weisi Guo from the School of Engineering at the University of Warwick said this technology could play a part in preventing disasters like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
He said: “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. Of course people have achieved short ranged signalling using chemicals, but we have gone to the next level and successfully communicated continuous and generic messages over several metres.
“Signalling or cues are something we see all the time in the natural world – bees for example use chemicals in pheromones to signal to others when there is a threat to the hive.
“In the modern human world, our method won’t replace electromagnetic waves which transmit the bulk of our data, but there are some areas where conventional communications systems are not particularly well-adapted.
“For example, inside tunnels, pipelines or deep underground structures, chemical signals can offer a more efficient way of transmitting sensor data, such as those collected to monitor the health of structures and processes.
“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.”
The work was done alongside scientists from York University in Canada and the first demonstration signal was performed in Canada and was ‘O Canada,’ from the Canadian national anthem. It was sent several metres across open space before it was decoded by a receiver. The hardware is made from off-the-shelf electronics and costs around about £60. The team will now set up a company which aims to bring a range of academic and industrial products to the market.
Dr Guo said the technique could be adapted for communications within the human body.
He explained: “They can also be used to communicate on the nano scale, for example in medicine where recent advances mean it’s possible to embed sensors into the organs of the body or create miniature robots to carry out a specific task such as targeting drugs to cancer cells.
“On these tiny scales and in special structural environments, there are constraints with electromagnetic signals such as the ratio of antenna size to the wavelength of the signal, which chemical communication does not have. Molecular communication signals are also biocompatible and require very little energy to generate and propagate.”