Cellular Automata Explorer

Well all know cellular automata from Conway’s Game of Life which simulates cellular evolution using rules based on the state of all eight adjacent cells. [Gavin] has been having fun playing with elementary cellular automata in his spare time. Unlike Conway’s Game, elementary automata uses just the left and right neighbors of a cell to determine the next cell ahead in the row. Despite this comparative simplicity, some really complex patterns emerge, including a Turing-complete one.

[Gavin] started off doing the calculations by hand for fun. He made some nice worksheets for this. As we can easily imagine, doing the calculations by hand got boring fast. It wasn’t long before his thoughts turned to automating his cellular automata. So, he put together an automatic cellular automator. (We admit, we are having a bit of fun with this.)

This could have been a quick software project but half the fun is seeing the simulations on a purpose-built ecosystem. The files to build the device are hosted on Thingiverse. Like other cellular automata projects, it uses LED matrices to display the data. An Arduino acts as the brain and some really cool retro switches from the world’s most ridiculously organized electronics collection finish the look of the project.

To use, enter the starting condition with the switches at the bottom. The code on the Arduino then computes and displays the pattern on the matrix. Pretty cool and way faster than doing it by hand.

Old Fax Machine Shows Signs of Life


[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.

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‘conus’ mixes media, math and mollusks


We love art installations that use technology in ways probably never before considered, and Moscow media artist [Dimitry Morozov] has done just that with ‘conus’, which reads the surface of mollusk shells and translates the data into real-time audio and video. These shells are unique; their pigmentation generates natural cellular automata. (If you’ve never heard of cellular automata, Conway’s Game of Life is a good example, where a rule set determines whether a cell lives, dies, or regenerates.

[Dimitry’s] installation uses homemade digital microscopes to scan the naturally-created cellular automata of several shells, each rotating on its own disc. As the shell spins, the scans from the microscopes are fed into an algorithm which transforms the signals into data for multiple audio channels and three video monitors. You can watch the mathematical translation of the biologically-formed patterns in a video after the break.

Check out the MSP430 game of life shield for another example of cellular automata.

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