Computer inspired by kirigami paper cutting art

THE new mechanical computer has absolutely no electronic parts, consisting of just 64 polymer cubes linked together to process data.

Scientists have created a mechanical computer inspired by kirigami, the Japanese art of paper folding and cutting, Live Science reported on July 4. The new study was published in the journal Science Advances.

The prototype computer has no electronic components. It consists of 64 interconnected 1-cm3 polymer blocks that can be rearranged to store, retrieve, and erase data. Like kirigami, the computer can be adjusted into a variety of configurations and states.

Each cube represents a bit of binary data, which can be pushed up or down to represent 1 and 0 respectively. Rearranging the cubes changes the computer's configuration, allowing information to be stored or represented in physical form.

The new computer could help create physical encryption-decryption systems, and even develop hand-controlled systems for 3D environments. "For example, a certain configuration of functional units could be used as a 3D password. We are also interested in exploring the potential uses of these superstructures to create tactile systems that can display information in 3D environments rather than as pixels on a screen," said Yanbin Li, a postdoctoral researcher in the College of Engineering at North Carolina State University and lead author of the study.

Mechanical computers have been around for centuries, likely as early as the second century BC, long before modern algorithms and programming languages ​​were invented. But back then, humans operated them with gears and levers, making them very cumbersome.

With the new computer, changing the position of one cube changes the layout of all the connected cubes, which means changing the computer's configuration to accommodate different computational states. "Using a binary framework - where cubes are either on top or bottom - a simple superstructure of nine functional units has more than 362,000 configurations," Li said.

The team says the system is capable of more complex computations than binary code, with cubes representing not just 0 or 1 but also 2, 3, and 4. "Each of the 64 functional units can be arranged in a variety of layouts, and the cubes can be stacked up to five high," explains study co-author Jie Yin, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University.

In the future, the team hopes to collaborate with programmers to develop code for computers. "Our experimental prototype has demonstrated the potential of these structures, but we have not yet developed code to take advantage of them. We would like to collaborate with other researchers to explore the coding potential of these superstructures," Li said.

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