The future of wireless communication might be under your sink. Researchers at Stanford University recently developed a system that will allow communications through the pH signals of chemicals, without using any electromagnetic pulses or traditional communications. It’s as simple as using some glass cleaner, vinegar, and a whole lot of science.

Nariman Farsad, the post-doctoral fellow who leads the project, previously experimented with a similar design using vodka. But due to the chemical composition of the vodka, the signal would build up to the point of interfering with transmissions. The latest system operates through glass cleaner and vinegar and can send messages at a much faster rate.

Like most communication systems, the chemicals relay messages through a binary code. However, instead of ones and zeros, signals are coded through the base and acid messages of the vinegar and glass cleaner. After typing a message through a computer, the communications system can pump signals into the corresponding chemicals, which are then transmitted into a container with a pH system. By reading the changes in pH, another computer is used to decipher the messages.

While it might sound slightly more complicated than radio messaging, the system comes with its advantages. It could offer a more reliable communications system in situations where radio communication often fails, such as underwater or in urban environments with large amounts of metal.

The chemical system sends messages through a computer where they are then decoded.
The chemical system sends messages through a computer where they are then decoded.

Researchers describe the potential applications of the system as essentially “limitless.” The messages could help robots communicate with each other and also provide a secure messaging system in an emergency scenario where the electric grid is knocked out.

More importantly, because chemical messaging is safe for the human body the system could be a crucial element in creating nanotechnology that is safe for use in the humans. Cells already communicate using chemicals, so the signaling is much more effective and less dangerous than using high-frequency signals, which can cause tissue damage. The signals also can’t be detected outside the body, making them more secure from interception.

“This is one of the most important potential applications for this type of project,” Farsad says.

Conceivably, the system could be a safe way to make Elon Musk’s neural lace, which would allow humans to communicate with artificial intelligence via the brain, a reality.

However, there are still a number of kinks to work out with the system, including completely eliminating reside from the transmission that can cause communications errors.

“We believe that we have a long way to go to make this system faster and better and more reliable,” says Andrea Goldsmith, professor of electrical engineering. “We think even in the performance we have today it actually would work in certain applications.