Researchers at the University of Exeter in the U.K. have developed a nanoscale optical "abacus" that uses light signals to perform arithmetic computation, a breakthrough that could lead to new, more powerful computers that combine computing and storage functions in one element.
The researchers say the device works by counting pulses of light, similar to how beads are used to count with a conventional abacus.
"This device is able to carry out all the basic functions you'd associate with the traditional abacus--addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division--but what's more it can do this using picosecond light pulses," says Exeter professor C. David Wright.
The researchers have installed the optical abacus on a photonic microchip that can be easily manufactured.
Thus far, the team has used the new system to perform calculations with two-digit numbers using two photonic phase-change cells, but they say the extension to large multi-digit numbers simply requires the use of more cells.
From University of Exeter
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