Scientists at the University of Michigan have created an air-powered microprocessor that is able to function without an electrical power source. It runs with just pneumatic valves and a handpump that pushes air through the system. The end result is a CPU that could eventually be used in a lab-on-a-chip device aimed at developing countries where electricity is scarce.
Minsoung Rhee and Mark Burns created the chip, which reads binary 0s and 1s as air goes in and out of the valves. The valves are controlled by changing the air pressure in a chamber below the flowing air, which closes the valve when full. Using this system, the researchers managed to create an 8-bit system of flip-flops, logic gates, and shift registers that is more mechanical than electronic.
And because pneumatic valves are already used by the same team's microfluidic systems on a chip, implementing the technology shouldn't come at a great extra cost.
[via New Scientist]