back to article Boffins' brilliant plan: CONCRETE COMPUTERS

At times it might seem to some of us as though the world's top boffins are slacking at their task of making our technology better and more advanced: but not today. Today we learn that some of them are on the track of something which everyone involved in IT must have been lusting after for years. Wouldn't it be nice, you must …


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  1. Bruno Girin

    Smart buildings

    Could be useful to embed sensors and networking gear in buildings. Of course you then have the question of how you upgrade the tech during the lifetime of the building.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Smart buildings

      You've also got the issue of separating signals within the material.

      I shall invent a flexible conductor sheathed in non-conductive material that can be used to transmit isolated signals between points. It will be inexpensive, easy to terminate, flexible with high tensile strength and come in a variety of colors to aid visual identification and perhaps deployed from a 'spool'. I shall call this invention 'wire'.

      1. Paul Kinsler Silver badge

        Re: Smart buildings

        Wires are old hat. Better to use optical fibres, since frequently they can also act as both the sensor and transmission medium, and are largely immune to most sources of electrical and magnetic interference (although properly designed, they can act as E or M sensors as well). And if you use them to make an interferometer, they can also be fantastically sensitive.

  2. nuked

  3. Thomas 4

    I love it!

    A keyboard you can beat a user to death with, yet resilient enough to type on afterwards! know, after fishing out skull fragments and gore from between the keys. >.>

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Around for decades already

      And it's called the IBM Model M.

  4. JimC
    Thumb Up

    > You may disagree, but then you aren't writing this.

    That's telling 'em:-))

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: > You may disagree, but then you aren't writing this.

      "You may disagree, but then you aren't writing this."

      Classic. Someone used to be a civil servant before moving to the Reg. :)

      1. funkenstein
        Thumb Up

        Re: > You may disagree, but then you aren't writing this.

        This is exactly why I love reading the Reg!

  5. RainForestGuppy

    "metallic glass"

    You mean Transparent Aluminium!!!

    1. Tim Worstal

      Re: "metallic glass"

      Transparent Aluminium

      Which is sapphire, as we've discussed here (well, not quite, transparent alumina but close).

  6. FartingHippo

    Concrete vs Cement

    Amusingly, given the context of the article, you make concrete by adding chips to the cement. (Chips of gravel, that is.)

  7. Simon Harris

    OO programming...

    If cement is used as a semiconductor, will all classes have to be concrete classes?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: OO programming...

      Just have an artist work on it, and it can be an abstract class.

      Just don't use the result as a base to display itself - that would be an abstract base class with cyclic inheritance, and that's bad.

      (the backpack with the IBM Rhapsody training manuals in the pouch.)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Liquid cement......

    Isn't there an inherent problem with this.....liquid cement is only liquid for a short while. After that, your new shiney piece of elecetronics will turn into, er, a brick (quite literally).

    Or have I missed something?

    1. wnielson

      Re: Liquid cement......

      The term 'liquid', in this case, refers to the microstructure. For example, metals typically have a crystalline microstructure whereas liquids are amorphous. "Liquid metal" is made by "locking in" the amorphous, or "liquid", arrangement of the atoms but in a solid material--a more technically correct name is "amorphous metal". This is typically done by melting the metal and then rapidly quenching it--the key is to do it fast enough that the atoms do not have enough time to rearrange into their preferred crystalline structure.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Liquid cement......

        The reason it's frequently called a glass is because the most commonly-used amorphous solid we use in our society happens to be common glass (which is a naturally amorphous solid).

  9. sisk

    Whee! Now we have a way to build electronics into the building itself!

    (Now who's going to pay to replace the wall in 5 years when the computer built into the cement that forms it inevitably quits working?)

    1. DJV Silver badge

      Ah, the old "Blue Building of Death" syndrome...

      1. Fink-Nottle

        Hickock & Earpe - IT Consultants

        Nah mate, this whole lot will have to be gutted and those windows look dodgy.

        *sucks teeth* We can fix it, but it wont be cheap.

        Tell you what, I’ll send one of my lads round in the morning …

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Eh, you just trowel on an upgrade.

  10. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    meme change?

    Instead of a chip failure "letting the magic smoke out," it will now "let the magic moisture out"?!?

  11. Big_Boomer


    A concrete or cement case for your iPhone 7 would shatter as soon as you dropped it. Concrete/cement is good in compression, not in tension nor in shock. Now if it were reinforced concrete or cement it would be tougher but you'd still be better off with plastics as they flex but snap back to their original shapes.

    What particular chemical are they using for their "liquid metal" semi-conductors? Cement is made up of silcates, aluminates, aluminoferrite and gypsum in varying proportions depending on the properties needed.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: useless

      You wouldn't want reinforced concrete for a phone casing, anyway, as the most common material used for reinforcing concrete is steel (because it's relatively cheap and highly tensile). It or any other metal would play hobnob with wireless reception, I would think.

      1. Andrew Newstead

        Re: useless

        Try using glass or carbon as the reinforcment material, works for aircraft radomes. Polyester and nylon fabrics would work too.

  12. Idocrase

    This could work. Cement is largely sand after all, and sand = silicon, and silicon is a semiconductor. I cannot fathom how they deal with the quicklime and other stuff that gets added, but hey, if it could be made to work...

    Plus now, I want a concrete computer case. It would only be slightly heavier than my current one, and i could tuck it into a slot in the wall when I don't need it.

    1. Don Jefe

      No. That's not how sand works.

  13. Frankee Llonnygog

    Slim Gaillard predicted this

    Cement mixer, putti putti,

    Cement mixer, putti putti,

    Cement mixer, putti putti,

    (Poodle-da-skoodie, poodle-da skoodie,



    First you get some gravel,

    (From the streams) about.

    You mix a mess of mortar,

    (Splash) a mess of water,

    See the mello-roonie come out!

    Slurp, slurp, slurp....

  14. Cameron Colley

    Apple will license it -- we'll never see it again.

    If it looks even remotely useful, as Liquidmetal did, then Apple will license it then fail to use it -- just so that nobody else uses it.

  15. Sceptic Tank

    Rock solid construction

    HA! I knew these virtual machines would come to nothing. Give us concrete computers! It will probably come pre-installed with that combined version of Windows CE+ME+NT that I've heard of.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Rock solid construction

      I hope not, the idea of combining all those versions of Windows leaves me mortar-fied.

  16. Andy Fletcher

    I'd like to see some evidence please

    Guess which kind.

  17. frank ly

    An Idea

    If a set of identical, general purpose computing elements/blocks could be made from cement (with a filler material to give strength), then some form of interconnect studs on the top, with matching receptacles on the base could be formed into each block to give a structural and data/power interconnect. Using these, a larger unit could be simply assembled from smaller units. Just an idea......

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Concrete form

    I don't know about anybody else, but I am making a form for my concrete computer:

    1m x 4m x 9m

    1. jubtastic1

      Re: Concrete form

      2001 called, they want their monolithic computer back.

  19. Stevie


    I thought everyone knew that hand-shoveled, machine-tumbled concrete never really mixes and flows properly without the addition of one short squirt of Fairy Liquid per load.

    Tch! Kids today! Never listen, never learn.

    1. Michael Dunn

      Re: Bah!

      Or PVA, expensively repackaged as concrete "plasticiser!"

      1. Stevie

        Re: Bah!

        How can a squirt of Elmer's white glue help? The Fairy Liquid breaks the surface tension of the water allowing it to mix and flow more easily. PVA makes everything more rubbery.

  20. Maty

    However ...

    Since the designs for this wonder machine remain theoretical, the concrete computer is abstract?

  21. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Amourphous metal

    is indeed rapidly cooled (IE 1 million deg/sec) IIRC. Trouble is if the metal gets too warm it reverts to crystals. It's big benefit are the superior magnetic properties of the stuff.

    But doing it in concrete is very impressive.

  22. Someone Else Silver badge

    Well, I...uh...

    Wouldn't it be nice, you must have thought, if instead of all this plastic and silicon and glass and so forth, my kit - displays, chips, tablets, laptops, all of it - could be made instead of lovely concrete?

    Well, actually, I ... hadn't.

    Mine's the one with the Coke-bottle glasses in the pocket (given my clear and present case of myopia...).

  23. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    All joking aside.

    This is a bit impractical.

    You're looking at (and I mean this literally) melting concrete powder using a sound based containerless levitator (to prevent re-crystalisation) and then controlled cooling.

    Note that once it's hardened it should remain solid in water but sadly I don't think anyone is going to be sticking a bag of this in a mixer and laying down their next PC on say the kitchen floor.

    OTOH this is v 0.1 tech and while this is the first technique to do this it might not remain the only way to do this.

  24. Michael Dunn

    Gives a new meaning to

    Arduino Playground!

  25. Parax


    What happens when the cement sets?

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Concrete bootstrap?

  27. Identity

    Heavy, man!

    ...mines the one with the cement overshoes

  28. Martin Budden
    Black Helicopters

    Something's bugging me.

    Will this make it impossible to detect listening devices embedded in embassy walls?

  29. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    You know, I have one simple request. And that is to have aerodynamic levitators with frickin' carbon dioxide laser beams attached to their heads!

  30. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    There *might* be a way to make this on a commercial scale.

    the new ultra thin glass used on Apple tablets is made by Corning using a process originally developed in the mid 60's. It uses a V shaped trough filled with the glass to overflowing. The glass drips down both sides until they merge into a single thin (<0.8mm IIRC) very flat layer.

    In principle the same could be done with molten cement and providing the thermal environment is properly shaped it won't solidify till it's well down stream of the trough. Being in contact with nothing but the atmosphere of the chamber the sheet will be amorphous.

    Finding a material to make the trough out of is left as an exercise for the interested reader.

    As for what you could with an unlimited supply of thin semiconductive cement sheet, b**ered if I know.

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