A team of scientists from Japan and England has developed a computer made from live crabs, and though it sounds like something out of a Monty Python skit this crustaceous computing device could lead to a new generation of ultra-efficient computers. The basic concept is a form of biomimicry, as the researchers were inspired by soldier crabs, which can form into swarms to accomplish a task that none dare to accomplish individually.
Crabs and computers
In an article at complex-systems.com, the research team describes how they observed the swarming behavior of soldier crabs, or Mictyris guinotae, which live in colonies numbering into the hundreds of thousands:
“A single crab or a small group of crabs do not usually enter the water; however, a large swarm enters the water and crosses a lagoon without hesitation. The large swarm crossing the water consists of an active front and passive tail. The crabs in the tail simply follow the crabs at the front.”
Based on their observations, the researchers theorized that crabs are practicing a form of collision-based computing, analogous to the behavior of colliding billiard balls (it’s worth noting that one part of the team is from the Unconventional Computing Centre of the University of the West of England).
Like billiard balls that behave differently depending on whether they collide with another ball or not, an individual crab will follow passively or lead aggressively depending on their location within a swarm.
Crabs, biomimicry and energy efficient computers
According to a post at MIT’s Technology Review, conventional computers are about eight orders of magnitude less energy efficient than they could be in theory. A basic principle of biomimicry is that natural systems evolve toward efficiency, and the researchers’ findings so far appear to confirm that.
After testing their theory in computer models, they built a simple maze-like structure roughly in the shape of an X. That enabled them to observe the behavior of crabs in channels, and sure enough, they found similarities to the highly efficient “billiard ball” computer established by earlier research.
Teeny tiny crab computers
Don’t turn in your smart phone for a bucket of soldier crabs just yet, though – the next challenge, of course, is to miniaturize the principles of collision computing for real life applications. In the meantime, computer researchers are
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Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.