A brief history of liquid computers
A substrate does not have to be solid to compute. It is possible to make a computer purely from a liquid. I demonstrate this using a variety of experimental prototypes where a liquid carries signals, actuates mechanical computing devices and hosts chemical reactions. We show hydraulic mathematical machines that compute functions based on mass transfer analogies. I discuss several prototypes of computing devices that employ fluid flows and jets. They are fluid mappers, where the fluid flow explores a geometrically constrained space to find an optimal way around, e.g. the shortest path in a maze, and fluid logic devices where fluid jet streams interact at the junctions of inlets and results of the computation are represented by fluid jets at selected outlets. Fluid mappers and fluidic logic devices compute continuously valued functions albeit discretized. There is also an opportunity to do discrete operation directly by representing information by droplets and liquid marbles (droplets coated by hydrophobic powder). There, computation is implemented at the sites, in time and space, where droplets collide one with another. The liquid computers mentioned above use liquid as signal carrier or actuator: the exact nature of the liquid is not that important. What is inside the liquid becomes crucial when reaction–diffusion liquid-phase computing devices come into play: there, the liquid hosts families of chemical species that interact with each other in a massive-parallel fashion. I shall illustrate a range of computational tasks, including computational geometry, implementable by excitation wave fronts in nonlinear active chemical medium. The overview will enable scientists and engineers to understand how vast is the variety of liquid computers and will inspire them to design their own experimental laboratory prototypes.