Centennial Birthday of Claude E. Shannon the Math and EE Pioneer

Dr. Claude E. Shannon was born 100 years ago tomorrow. He contributed greatly to the fields of engineering, communications, and computer science but is not a well known figure, even to those in the field. However, his work touches us all many times each day. The network which delivered this article to your computer or smartphone was designed upon important theories developed by Dr. Shannon.

Shannon was born and raised in Michigan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with degrees in Mathematics and Electrical Engineering. He continued his graduate studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he obtained his MS and PhD. He worked for Bell Laboratories on fire-control systems and cryptography during World War II and in 1956 he returned to MIT as a professor.

shannon-0Shannon’s first impactful contribution was his masters thesis which took the Boolean Algebra work of George Boole and applied it to switching circuits (then made up of relays). Before his work there was no formal basis for the analysis of switching systems, like telephone networks or elevator control systems. Shannon’s thesis developed the use of symbolic notation to represent networks and applied simplifying rules to optimize the system. These same rules later translated to vacuum tube and transistor logic aiding in the development of today’s computer systems. The thesis — A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits — was completed in 1937 and subsequently published in 1938 in the Transactions of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.

Shannon’s doctoral work continued in the same vein of applying mathematics someplace new, this time to genetics. Vannevar Bush, his advisor, commented, “It occurred to me that, just as a special algebra had worked well in his hands on the theory of relays, another special algebra might conceivably handle some of the aspects of Mendelian heredity”. Shannon’s work again is revolutionary, providing a mathematical basis for population genetics. Unfortunately, it was a step further than geneticists of time could take. His work languished, although interest increased over time.

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Hackaday Links: Sunday, May 19th, 2013


Laser cutter owners may find this online box design tool which [Jon] built quite useful. It’s got a few more joint options than the Inkscape box design add-on does.

Apparently the US Navy has the ability to bring down drones in a flaming pile of laser-caused death. [Thanks Joshua]

[Michail] has been working on a transistor-based full adder. He’s posted a Spice simulation if you want to learn about the design.

Turn your crystal clear LED bodies into diffuse ones using a wooden dowel, power drill, and sandpaper. The results look better than what we’ve accomplished by hand. [Thanks Vinnie]

Play your favorite Atari Jaguar games on an FPGA thanks to the work [Gregory Estrade] did to get it running on a Stratix-II board. You can pick up the VHDL and support tools in his repo. If you’re just curious you can watch his demo vid.

Members of Open Space Aarhus — a hackerspace in Risskov, Denmark — have been playing around with a bunch of old server fans. They made a skirtless hovercraft by taping them together and letting them rip. Too bad it can’t carry its own power supply

Here’s another final project from that bountiful Cornell embedded systems class. This team of students made a maze game that forms the maze by capturing walls drawn on a white board.

And finally, here’s a unique chess board you can build by raiding your parts bin. [Tetris Monkey] made the board from the LCD screen of a broken monitor. The playing pieces are salvaged electronics (like big capacitors) against corroded hardware (like nuts and bolts). We think it came out just great!

Magnetic CNC marble maze


[Martin Raynsford] figured out a way to sneak some learning into a fun package. He did such a good job the test subjects didn’t even know they were teaching themselves just a tiny bit of CNC programming.

The apparatus above is a marble maze, but instead of building walls [Martin] simply etched a pattern on the playing field. The marble is a ball bearing which moves through the maze using a magnetic CNC gantry hidden underneath. Where does one get ball bearings of this size? If you’re [Martin] you scavenge them from your laser-cut Donkey Kong game.

He showed off the rig at the Maker Faire.  It takes simple commands as cardinal directions and units of movement. The ‘player’ (remember, they’re secretly learning something, not just playing a game) inputs a series of movements such as “N10,E10” which are then pushed through a serial connection to the Arduino. It follows these commands, moving the hidden magnet which drags the ball bearing along with it. It’s simple, but watch the clip after the break and we think you’ll agree the sound of the stepper motors and the movement of the ball will be like crack for young minds.

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Adding a sound synthesizer to a ‘don’t-touch-the-sides’ maze game

Part of the fun of the classic game of Operation is the jump you get from the loud buzzer which sounds if you touch the sides. This exhibit piece uses the same principle of lining the edges of a track with metal, but instead of an annoying buzz, each touch will issue a bit of music. That’s because the maze has been paired with a synthesizer. Instead of one sound wherever the stylus touches the sides, different parts of the maze act as one of 94 keys for the synthesizer.

There’s a lot more built into the base of the device than just a maze game. The knobs are used to alter the audio effects and the buttons work in conjunction with they stylus to sequence audio samples. There’s even a graphic LCD screen which shows the currently playing wave form. You can get a better look at the project in the video after the break.

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Ball-in-maze game shows creativity and classic 8-bit sound

[M. Eric Carr] built this a long time ago as his Senior Project for EET480. It’s an electronic version of the ball-in-maze game. We’ve embedded this video after the break for your convenience.

The game has just one input; an accelerometer. If you’re having trouble visualizing the game, it works the same as this Android-based version, but replaces the physical maze and marble with a virtual maze on the graphic LCD screen. This has huge implications. Instead of just recreating the maze on the screen, [Eric] designed a multi-screen world, complete with warp blocks, which adds difficulty to  finding a solution. It also means that multiple different mazes can be played if you get tired of playing the same level.

This game also features music. A separate PIC microcontroller uses PWM to push out the 8-bit sound heard in the video. From the YouTube comments we learned that [Eric] didn’t write the music himself, but we still appreciate the playback quality he achieves with his hardware.

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Micromouse wins 2011 maze race in under 4 seconds

It’s off to the races once again with the Micomouse maze solving contest at the 2011 RoboGames. This is a picture of the winner, a bot called Min7 (main page) which was built by [Ng Beng Kiat]. Using four phototransistors and a flash sensor it managed to first map the contest maze, then speed run it in under four seconds. See both runs in videos after the break. He’s certainly got a leg up on the bots we saw last year. Min7 beats them both in time, and overall control during the speed run.

[Ng] mentions that this year is the first time he’s built a micromouse with four wheels instead of two. There’s a gyro on board which aids navigation by feeding the orientation data to the STM32 chip which controls the device. We took a moment to page through his past designs. It’s remarkable how they’ve evolved through the years. Continue reading “Micromouse wins 2011 maze race in under 4 seconds”