Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Introducing the Illuminato X Machina

The Santa Fe Project is a crazy one, and over 6 months ago, David Ackley and I originally talked down at the Santa Fe Institute about what we would need as far as tools were concerned in the software and hardware domain in order to really get a “feel” for what we were about to try to solve. We sketched a few ideas on the back of scrap pieces of paper (we didn’t have any napkins lying around), and came up with a list of humble and meager features we’d want in a hardware platform: infinite scalability, ad hoc interconnectivity, dynamic boot load and code flashing, physical manifestation of software code, physical computing, compatible with Open Source language work in physical computing like the Arduino platform, a very fast core processor, a more powerful chip than an 8 bit Atmel, yet an approachable basic set of functionality that would allow us to expand on it easily, and a large community of heavy duty, hardcore software and hardware hackers.

Simple! Errrrr…

Then I jumped on a plane and headed back to New York and rode my motorcycle as quickly as I could to Connecticut, and met with Chris and Mike, and said, there’s got to be a way to build this thing… right? Mike laughed at me, but Chris said bring it on.

(6 months later)

And so, it’s with that same kind of pride that you get when you fix a bug and a 1000 line program compiles on the very next try that I proudly introduce the Illuminato X Machina.

The Illuminato X Machina is the result of an Open Source collaboration between David Ackley from the University of New Mexico, Liquidware, and Illuminato Labs. It’s what you’d expect if Complex Adaptive Systems met Open Source Hardware at a bar, drank too much and had a love child that was raised on Physical Computing child support in the suburbs of Modular Electronics. Then one day that child spontaneously cloned itself hundreds of times, and decided to hold hands with all of its clone siblings so that it could play a crazy N^2 O*log(O) game of telephone. Or something like that.

It’s a small “motherboard cell” that can interchangeably link and connect up to other cells, either rightside up or upside down, to adaptively route packets and power to its neighbors, like a grid of biologic cells, passing nutrients and resources to their neighbors. Also, each board can program its neighbors using a dynamic bucket-passing bootloader that allows any given cell in the grid to over-ride or re-program neighbors.

Each cell runs a 72 MHz ARM processor with 56 digital I/O pins, and the ability to accept power from any one of its 4 edges. This means that the cellular grid can expand in any direction, and the reversible interconnections mean it can grow like a crystal in any orientation. I've uploaded more pictures to my page on Flickr too.

The Illuminato X Machina boards will be available in a limited quantity run that's ready 2 months, so I've put them up for pre-order here. Basically, it is like the Borg of open source, DIY physical computing… it’s crazy, and 7 guys and gals will be hacking it like mad over the next couple of months :-)

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