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.

Testing the Speed-of-Light Conspiracy

There are a number of ways to measure the speed of light. If you’ve got an oscilloscope and a few spare parts, you can build your own apparatus for just a few bucks. Don’t believe the “lies” that “they” tell you: measure it yourself!

OK, we’re pretty sure that conspiracy theories weren’t the motivation that got [Michael Gallant] to build his own speed-of-light measurement rig, but the result is a great writeup, and a project that includes one of our favorite circuits, the avalanche transistor pulse generator.

setupThe apparatus starts off with a very quickly pulsed IR LED, a lens, and a beam-splitter. One half of the beam takes a shortcut, and the other bounces off a mirror that is farther away. A simple op-amp circuit amplifies the resulting pulses after they are detected by a photodiode. The delay is measured on an oscilloscope, and the path difference measured with a tape measure.

If you happen to have a photomultiplier tube in your junk box, you can do away with the amplifier stage. Or if you have some really fast logic circuits, here’s another project that might interest you. But if you just want the most direct measurement we can think of that’s astoundingly accurate for something lashed up on breadboards, you can’t beat [Michael]’s lash-up.

Oh and PS: He got 299,000 (+/- 5,000) km/sec.

SIM Card Connectors and White PCBs Make Huge LED Snowflakes Happen

[Mike Harrison] talked about designing and building a huge scale LED lighting installation in which PCBs were used as both electrical and mechanical elements, and presented at Electromagnetic Field 2016. The project involved 84,000 RGBW LEDs, 14,000 microcontrollers and 25,000 PCBs. It had some different problems to solve compared to small jobs, but [Mike] shared techniques that could be equally applied to smaller scale projects or applications. He goes into detail on designing for manufacture and assembly, sourcing the parts, and building the units on-site.

The installation itself was a snowflake display for a high-end shopping mall in Hong Kong in the 2015 Christmas season. [Mike] wanted a small number of modular boards that could be connected together on-site to make up the right shapes. In an effort to minimize the kinds of manufacturing and parts needed, he ended up using modular white PCBs as structural elements as well as electrical. With the exception of some minor hardware like steel wire supports, no part of the huge snowflakes required anything outside of usual PCB manufacturing processes to make. The fewer suppliers, the fewer potential problems. [Mike] goes into design detail at 6:28 in the video.

For the connections between the boards, he ended up using SIM card connectors intended for cell phones. Some testing led to choosing a connector that matched up well with the thickness of a 1.6mm PCB used as a spacer. About 28,000 of them were used, and for a while in 2015 it was very hard to get a hold of that particular part, because they had cleaned everyone out! Continue reading “SIM Card Connectors and White PCBs Make Huge LED Snowflakes Happen”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Under Cabinet LED Lighting Controller

[Matt Meerian]’s workbench seems to be in perpetual shadow, so he has become adept at mounting LED strips under all his shelves and cabinets. These solve any problems involving finding things in the gloom, but present a new problem in that he risks a lot of LED strips being left on, and going round turning them all off is tedious.

His solution is to make a wireless controller for all his home LED strips, under the command of a web app from his Android tablet. An ESP8266 and a set of MOSFETs provide the inner workings, and the whole is presented on a very compact and well-designed purple OSH Park PCB reflow soldered on a $20 Wal-Mart hotplate and set in a plastic enclosure. The web interface is still in development, but has a fairly simple CSS front end for the ESP8266 code. All software, the schematic, and BoM can be downloaded from the Hackaday.io page linked above.

This project isn’t going to end world hunger or stop wars, but it’s beautifully done and well documented, and it makes [Matt]’s life a lot easier. And that makes it a good entry for the Hackaday Prize.

Pressure Plate LED Coasters!

Looking to use up some more of his flexible LED strip, Hackaday alum and Tindie writer [Jeremy Cook] tried for a funky accent to his dinner or coffee table: light up coasters.

Using his CNC router to carve out two pieces of translucent plastic to house four 3V CR2032 batteries, four pieces of LED strip, and some wire, [Cook] had created a pressure plate circuit that activated once a drink is set on it. The original layout of the circuit, however, didn’t work, and the space for the LED strips proved to be too small. A quick redesign and some more time with his router resulted in an almost working product. Initially intending to use screws to secure the coaster, hot glue provided the perfect amount of spring once he had thinned out the coaster top to allow it to more easily flex and complete the circuit.

Continue reading “Pressure Plate LED Coasters!”

Careful Crafting Makes DIY 7-Segment Display Shine

[MattB] decided to go the DIY route for some 7 segment displays that were several inches tall, but he had some particular requirements. He wanted precisely shaped elements that were as cleanly and evenly lit as possible, with no obvious points of illumination from LEDs and no visibly uneven edge lighting. To do this, he used the tools and materials he had on hand and carefully handcrafted each segment. The result is awfully close to his ideal!

Continue reading “Careful Crafting Makes DIY 7-Segment Display Shine”

Bring Doping, Microfluidics, Photovoltaics, and More Into the Home

Can you make a spectrometer for your home lab all from materials you have sitting around? We might not believe it from a less credible source, but this MIT course does indeed build a spectrometer from foam board using two razor blades as the silt cover and a writable CD as the diffraction grating. The coolest part is removing the metal backing of the CD.

mit_experiments_thumbHackaday reader [gratian] tipped us off about the course available from MIT courseware called Nanomaker. It boils down some fairly complicated experiments to the kind one can do in the home lab without involving thousands of dollars of lab equipment. The whole point is to demystify what we think of as complicated devices and topics surrounding photovoltaics, organic photovoltaics, piezoelectricity and thermoelectricity.


Spectrometers are used to analyze the wavelengths of a light source. Now that you have a measurement tool in hand it’s time to build and experiment with some light sources of your own. Here you can see an LED that is the topic of one of the course labs.

If you have a bit of background in chemistry this is a good step-by-step guide for getting into these types of experiments at home. It reminds us of some of the really cool stuff [Jeri Ellsworth] was doing in her garage lab, like making her own EL panels.

Continue reading “Bring Doping, Microfluidics, Photovoltaics, and More Into the Home”