Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The Illuminato X Machina Ecosystem

Usually when I talk about hacking hardware and programming boards, I find myself talking about an IDE- an integrated development environment. The notion of the development environment, however, places a much heavier emphasis on the software than on the hardware.

I think it's much more than that. It's not just the interface that's used to program, but also the hardware, software, and firmware modules involved, how they behave, how they react and interact. Matt talked about the Illuminato X Machina units as autonomous cells that each had specific abilities, could sense and reflexively respond to each other, and could even influence the behavior of their neighbors.

Robust physical computing and living computation, is built on this concept as well and takes it one step further. It's similar to thinking about everything as a set of interactions between living organisms that are part of an ecosystem.

There are a few other specialized members of the Illuminato X Machina robust physical computing ecosystem that make it a little more diverse and much more functional.


First is the Illuminato X Machina Red Terminal Programmer. The red terminal is a special cell that serves a specific function: relaying information directly to a set of neighboring cells. It has 3 onboard type B-mini USB connections, each equipped with its own FTDI chip so they can be independently controlled. Each USB connection is then linked to a single face, to offer independent control of each of its neighbors through the computer. With 2 USB ports connected, the Red Terminal will be able to provide enough power for just a small grid of IXM cells to program on the fly. Since the Red Terminal's unique role is to serve as a conduit for information and power, it does not have a microprocessor of its own. Much like a red blood cell that it lacks a nucleus because its shape has evolved to specialize as an oxygen carrier.

Below is a shot I took of the Red Terminal in action:

Next is a more powerful cousin of the standard Illuminato X Machina cell, dubbed the Weapons Grade cell. It's equipped with white LEDs, as well as current sensing and incoming power defense on all four edges. The more complex power routing capabilities on the Weapons Grade cells make them essential for grids experimenting with advanced power-related applications. For most conventional grids, they usually serve specific roles, and may simply be sprinkled across a tribe as neeeded. Or maybe because they look like UFOs :-)


The 7-pin Intercellular Matrix Headers are the glue that holds Illuminato X Machina cells together, both for structural integrity of the array, as well as for communication purposes. Either 1 or 2 can be used to bridge two cells together, depending on whether the extra connection on the opposite face of the cell is necessary.

The IXM programmer cable connects to a USB port on the computer end, and has a 7-pin male header on the opposite end, essential for programming directly to any board. It's especially useful with large arrays or tribes, where I don't want to keep moving my programmer board around to connect to a particular cell edge.

Next, the IXM power supply provides a 7-pin interface directly onto an Illuminato X Machina cell. It pumps out 12 V at 4.5 Amps, which is enough to power up to 30 cells. Plugging into any cell edge on the grid (or any other configuration) will power the entire set of interconnected cells, due to the adaptive power sharing and distribution.

Finally, the shrapnel resistant type B-mini USB cables are here mostly because they're neat and extremely durable, and they also match the black and gold of the Illuminato X Machina board. The tough woven polymer cable encasing match the robustness of the network...and are just plain fun to have.

Well, those are all the ones for now, and a quick way to view them all is to select the "Illuminato X Machina" category over on the shop. Of course, if anyone comes across a yet-to-be-discovered species, I'm all ears...jhuynh at gmail dot com


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