IP over LEGO train carrier

[Maximilien] sent in a networking protocol built out of a LEGO train set. Unlike IP over Avian Carrier this system won’t be killed by plate-glass windows or birds of prey, but we’d hate to step on [Max]‘s work in bare feet.

The system uses a USB flash drive to carry data around to different nodes. At each node, [Max] removed the power from the tracks and added a relay to start the train up again. A mechanical switch detects the presence of the train, and an Arduino makes the link to the Linux boxes via serial-over-USB.

The physical connection of the flash drive is with four wires and aluminum foil contacts. To send data, the system waits for the train to arrive at the ‘station’, mounts the drive, checks if there is data for it, and sends what needs to be sent. After unmounting the drive, power is applied to the local rail and the train continues on its journey.

[Max] admits that the latency on his network is terrible, but the bandwidth should be fairly good. As the old saying goes, ‘Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes.’ We’re not quite sure how that applies to LEGO trains, but there you go. Check out the gallery of [Max]‘s work after the break.

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Comments

  1. DrMelon says:

    I’d love to see a video of this in action!

  2. Video of pinging or it didn’t happen ;-)

  3. Bill says:

    Many years ago some of us were at a small boat sushi place, where the boats go around in one loop, and we got seated in two different groups. Yellow sticky notes were used as data carriers (though I don’t remember if the messages got much beyond “Ping” “Ack”.)

  4. thelackey3326 says:

    This seems like it would be a good physical illustration of networking for educational purposes. It’d be nice to see more things like this in schools so that computing doesn’t seem so much like magic to casual users (and children).

    • Hirudinea says:

      Yea, that’s a good idea, the teacher builds the different nodes and the kids assemble the track and send messages to each other. Also I think that CN uses this as an office intranet.

  5. ABS says:

    Oh man, I need the source for this!

  6. biozz says:

    … … … FINALLY

  7. Nova says:

    If only all packets could be sped up with the turn of a dial.

  8. Diggerw says:

    It is great to see people reinventing old ideas…this is how new ideas are born. Some of the the greatest inventions came about by accident!

  9. Tsaot says:

    Is anyone else having flashbacks to Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood?

  10. the_dude says:

    This sounds similar to the story where carrier pigeons were used to send USB sticks.

  11. Brandon says:

    I would love to see video of this as well, anyone?

  12. Brian Lutz says:

    Time for Token Ring to make a comeback?

  13. John Laur says:

    I find fault with these projects that encapsulate IP directly onto a layer 1 transport.

    It would make more sense to implement a layer 2 protocol onto the train (Token Ring would be a good choice; SONET could also sort of work but would be harder) and then just run IP on top of that.

  14. They really need to make a larger-scale version!

  15. Greg says:

    I wonder if AGW or Alcatel will sue… Thats obviously a ‘packet engine’

    Back in ’02-’04 timeframe, we had an O gauge trolley layout that ran along the spine of the cubes in an office of a large internet backbone. The layout was in a star topology, but was wired to allow the trolley to visit every endpoint like a ring. Nothing so fancy as usb drives, we used post it notes.

    We did discover a latency issue due to an odd number of endpoints. One would see opposite sides of the trolley every visit.

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