A few months ago, Calcyman came up with a substantial improvement to stable-reflector technology, using some of Paul Callahan's search results from the 1990s.
Ultimate (so far...) stable 180 degree reflector, the 'rectifier'.
By Calcyman, 26th March 2009, 21:00 GMT
The previous smallest and fastest stable reflector, the "boojum reflector", produced an output glider 180 degrees from the input at a 9-cell offset. It contained nine still-life catalysts and took 202 ticks to recover. Calcyman's new discovery, the "rectifier", needs only five catalysts to produce the exact same reflected glider -- and it recovers in only 106 ticks.
This is an unusually short recovery time, to say the least -- because this is the first stable reflector that makes a perfect single-stage recovery.
All stable reflectors are triggered when an incoming glider strikes a "bait" still life and produces an active pattern. Until now, all known stable reflectors have fallen into one of two categories. In the first type, "destroy-then-rebuild", a glider colliding with one or more bait still lifes produces an output signal; the bait then has to be reconstructed as a separate step, by routing a branch of the output signal back to the key location.
In the second type, "rebuild-then-repair", catalysts successfully recreate the bait and an output signal from the original active pattern. But it's very difficult to find a set of catalysts that can recreate the bait in exactly the right place, allow a clean output signal to escape, _and_ suppress the remainder of the active pattern perfectly. So other unwanted still lifes generally appear along with the bait; the output signal then has to be routed around to clean up the extra junk (usually by annihilating it with a carefully-placed glider). Only then can the reflector safely accept another glider input.
The boojum reflector comes fairly close to a perfect single-stage recovery; a lucky cleanup glider is generated directly from the original active pattern, so no extra Herschel circuitry is needed. But Calcyman's new pattern is a significant step forward: it doesn't need any cleanup gliders at all!
Calcyman's article-length summary of the development of stable signal-processing technology includes examples of both "destroy-then-rebuild" and "rebuild-then-repair" reflector types. A more comprehensive collection of early stable-reflector constructions can be found in his reflector catalogue.