There’s a time in every geek’s development when they learn of Conway’s Game of Life. This is usually followed by an afternoon spent on discovering that the standard rule set has been chosen because most of the others just don’t do interesting things, and that every idea you have has already been implemented. Often enough this episode is then remembered as ‘having learned about cellular automata’ (CA). While important, the Game of Life is not the only CA out there and it’s not even the first. The story starts decades before Life’s publication in 1970 in a place where a lot of science happened at that time: the year is 1943, the place is Los Alamos in New Mexico and the name is John von Neumann.
Recap: What is a CA?
The ‘cellular’ part in the name comes from the fact that CAs represent a grid of cells that can be in a number of defined states. The grid can have any number of dimensions, but with three dimensions the visual representation starts to get into the way, and above that most human brains stop working, so two-dimensional grids are the most common — with the occasional one-dimensional surprise. The cells’ states are in most cases discrete but a subset of continuous CAs exists. During the operation of a CA the future state of every cell in the grid is determined from each cells state according to a set of rules which in most cases take into account the states of neighboring cells.
[Dim] does a pretty good job of describing exactly how the clock works. The timebase is at the top. Below it is clock distribution and counters. After that come counters, latches, and lookup tables. Data moves around the clock in the form of gliders. P30 (aka Queen Bee) gliders to be exact. It might make things simpler to think of the glider paths as circuit traces, and the gliders themselves as clock pulses.
We couldn’t get over all the little details in this design. If you zoom way in, you can see all the lookup table patterns have been annotated, much in the way a schematic would be. For [Dim’s] next feat, we hope he takes on [Joe Z’s] Tetris challenge!
[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.
Sometimes it’s just plain fun to over-engineer. [Stephanie] gets a warm fuzzy feeling when she successfully adds way more electronics components to a project than she really needs – just because she can. We can’t really argue with her if that is the intended goal, nor can we find fault with the sweet Game of Life display she put together.
She started off with six Game of Life kits from Adafruit, but she quickly caught the LED bug and her collection grew until she had 20 kits (that’s 320 LEDs for those of you keeping count). After piecing them all together, they were mounted in a wooden frame and placed behind a dark piece of acrylic. It looked great and worked just fine, but it wasn’t overdone enough for her tastes.
In the end, she added a small Arduino and Xbee module to the Game of Life display, which enables it to be controlled by her network-enabled thermostat we featured a few weeks back. The thermostat was fitted with an Xbee unit as well, which allows it to turn the Game of Life on and off at whatever times [Stephanie] specifies.
Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories has proven bigger is better with their colossal LED table running Conway’s Game of Life. At the heart of the system is 44 ATmega164Ps controlling 352 LEDs on a 32×44 inch table; and to make it interactive IR LEDs detect the presence of objects.
The display is set up as an exhibit at the San Jose Museum of Art in tribute to [Leo Villareal]. To see a demo, catch a video after the divide.
Here’s an interesting kit put together just to help you work on your SMD soldering skills. It’s got 49 SMD LEDs on the front with a programming header and switch jumper. The back has an ATtiny26L and a coin cell. At only 3V, power management is essential; all of the example programs are only addressing one LED at a time (imperceptible to the human eye). If you turn on too many LEDs at the same time, the voltage drop could cause the AVR to reset. Included example programs are a scrolling marque, bouncing balls, and Conway’s game of life. SparkFun has tutorials for regular SMD soldering and using a reflow skillet. The video below shows the kit builder attaching just one LED using the heat and slide method.