Old Fax Machine Shows Signs of Life

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[Dmitry] is a Moscow based artist. He’s also a an avid circuit bender and hardware hacker. His latest project is entitled “signes de vie” or signs of life. [Dmitry] started with an Arduino and an old thermal fax machine. He removed the thermal print head and replaced it with a row of 10 LEDs. These old fax machines would use rolls of paper, cutting each sheet of as it was printed. [Dmitry] kept the roll system, but treated his paper with fluorescent dye. As the paper passes under the LEDs, it pauses for a moment and the LEDs are flashed. This causes a ghostly glow to remain on the paper for several minutes as the next rows are printed.

While [Dmitry] could have made this the world’s biggest tweet printer, he chose to go a more mathematical route. Each printed row of dots represents a generation of one-dimensional cellular automata. Cellular automation is a mathematical model of generations of cells. All cells exist on a grid, and can be alive or dead. The number of neighboring live cells determines if any given cell will live on to the next generation. One common implementation of cellular automation is Conway’s Game of Life. In [Dmitry's] implementation, a bank of switches select which of the 256 common cellular automata rules controls the colony. A second bank selects how long each generation lasts – from 1 to 18 seconds.

We really like how the paper becomes a printed, yet temporary history of the colony. [Dmitry] doesn’t say if he’s using a single long strip of paper, or if he created a loop. We’re hoping for the latter. Finally a useful implementation of the old black fax loop prank.

Comments

  1. vpoko says:

    Very cool project!

    It’s interesting that of the 256 possible rules for elementary 1D cellular automata, only one of them (rule 110) is provably universal (Turing complete).

    • rj says:

      To be obnoxiously pedantic, there are only 88 rules that aren’t a trivial transformation (reflection or inversion or both) of another. Rule 110 has 4 other equivalent forms (of the 256).

      And Wikipedia tells me that there’s another rule that might be Turing complete, but they haven’t proved it yet.

      Still, 2 out of 88 is still interesting.

  2. dx says:

    Looks nice! Probably can be used for some larger decorative equipment with conveyor tape as a canvas.

  3. Drake says:

    I was waiting for the 1 frame of a scary face …. was disappointed

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