Crab computers and smart-alec students

Poor old NASA. All these cuts taking place really are eating into its budget. ET himself can’t even top up and phone home. So what are they doing to compensate? Why, a bake sale and car wash of course.

The date is Saturday, 9 June and is billed – splendidly – as the Planetary Exploration Car Wash and Bake Sale. According to the website at Boulder’s Southwest Research Institute Planetary Science Directorate, the goal is to set up “Planetary fundraisers by a broad cross-section of planetary research and exploration institutions.” They expect 20 to 30 of such institutions to get involved, with part of the objective being to “draw media attention to the planetary budget cuts and the need to repair them.”

Well, guys, you’ve reached the Cayman Islands at least. Send us some space cake, which is what usually gets Weekender through these tumultuous and dark days of the soul.

Another out of this world story comes to us courtesy of NBC San Diego, where a university student got out of a $400 traffic ticket issued for failure to completely stop at a stop sign. Dmitri Krioukov, however, wrote a four-page paper stating that angular and linear motion showed the cop’s view was not possible.

“[M]y argument in the court went as follows: That what he saw would be easily confused by the angle of speed of this hypothetical object that failed to stop at the stop sign. And therefore, what he saw did not properly reflect reality, which was completely different,” said the brave lad, who in no way will now be targeted carefully by disgruntled officers looking to put the smartass in his place.


Crabs. Delicious or itchy, you can’t avoid them through life. And now, these sideward-perambulators are being pressed into service as, um, computers. “To expand the family of unconventional spatially extended computers, we studied the swarming behaviour of soldier crabs Mictyris guinotae and found that compact propagating groups of crabs emerge and endure under noisy external stimulation. We speculated that swarms can behave similarly to billiard balls and thus implement basic circuits of collision-based computing,” Yukio-Pegio Gunji, Yuta Nishiyama and Andrew Adamatzky said in a new paper. The researchers found that when two swarms of crabs collide, they merge and continue in a direction that is the sum of their velocities.

The team used swarms of 40 crabs to test the logic gates for real. These swarms were placed at the entrances of the logic gates and encouraged to move by a shadow intended to convince the crabs that there was a predatory bird overhead. Results closely matched those of the simulation, suggesting that crab-powered computers were possible. Awesome.