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Messages Sent via Molecules Can Aid Communication ­nderground, ­nderwater, or Inside the Body

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A simple molecular transmitter.

Letters are entered in the LCD Shield Kit and encoded in the Arduino Uno board as a binary sequence of five bits; each bit is sent to the spray device to spray (1) or not spray (0) isopropyl alcohol, propagated by a fan.

Credit: N. Farsad et al./PLOS ONE

Researchers at the University of Warwick and York University have developed a molecular communications system for sending messages and data in environments where electromagnetic waves cannot be used, such as underwater, in underground structures, or inside the body.

The researchers created the capability of converting any generic message into binary signals, which in turn are programmed into evaporated alcohol molecules. The first demonstration involved transmitting the words "O Canada" across a distance of several meters for decoding by a receiver, using hardware built from off-the-shelf electronics at a cost of about $100.

"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 bit 1 and no spray representing the bit 0," says York University doctoral candidate Nariman Farsad.

The University of Warwick's Weisi Guo notes that molecular signaling is commonplace in the natural world, and their method could be used for wireless oil rig and sewer monitoring, as well as nanoscale communication. Potential uses in this area include sensors embedded within organs or miniature robots that target drugs to cancerous cells.

"Molecular communication signals are also biocompatible and require very little energy to generate and propagate," Guo points out.

From University of Warwick
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