Building logic gates out of silicon is old hat, as is building them from discrete transistors, 555 chips, LEGO, and even gears. [Yukio-Pegio Gunji] and [Yuta Nishiyama] from Kobe University, along with [Andrew Adamatzky] from the aptly named Unconventional Computing Centre at the University of the West of England decided they needed a new way to build logic gates using crabs (PDF warning). Yes, the team successfully built functional logic gates using Mictyris guinotae, a species of soldier crab native to the South Seas.
The colonies of soldier crabs that inhabit the lagoons of Pacific atolls display a unique swarming behavior in their native habitat. When in a swarm of hundreds of individuals, the front of the swarm is driven by random turbulence in the group, while the back end of the swarm simply follows the leaders. Somehow, this is a successful evolutionary strategy, but it can also be exploited to build logic gates using only crabs.
The team constructed a Y-shaped maze for a pair of crabs to act as an OR gate. When two soldier crabs are placed at the top of the ‘Y’, they move forward until they meet and exit the maze through the output. This idea can be expanded to a slightly more complex AND gate, functionally identical to the electron-powered AND gate in a 7408 logic chip.
While the team has only made OR and AND gates – nothing functionally complete yet – there’s no reason to believe this crab-based system of computation couldn’t be expanded to a (very) basic calculator.