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.

15 thoughts on “Cellular Automata Explorer

  1. You know what the world needs? Some version of this or Conway’s GoL hybridised with Tower Defense type gameplay. So you’re setting up your automata to fight off hordes of invading automata in real time strategy mode.

        1. That is an awesome idea! I’m currently designing a table that has a refrigeration system so cold items stay cold and hot items hot.
          Thermistors and LEDs all over the place…
          It will be one of my first microcontrolled projects; will have an .io page when I get the dang thing somewhat working.

  2. Read Stephen Wolfram’s “A New Kind of Science”. He presents a very thorough investigation of all possible 3 cell rules. Plus many more complex rules. Great read if you’re in the right frame of mind.

  3. “This could have been a quick software project” and given all the logic is on an Arduino that is exactly what it is, the rest is interface.

    You can do these type of automate with a latches, diode ROMs and shift registers. For a fixed rule machine the logic core is tiny and you could implement the entire thing in discrete transistors without the risk of going insane.

    Anyway if you want to play with the most evolved software tool in this area try Golly,


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