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Illuminato X Machina

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It’s a new way of organizing the traditional von Neumann computer, called robust physical computing. Rather than subdividing the system into its functional components, robust physical computing breaks the system down into a network of mini-computer units. These units, or ‘cells’ can combine to form a modular, scalable computer capable of adapting its performance to the task at hand.

In less than four square inches, each Illuminato X Machina board contains the elements of a fully functional computer. A single Illuminato X Machina module, or ‘cell’, is equipped with a 72 MHz ARM-based microprocessor, a dedicated EEPROM chip for data storage, and RAM.

LEDs serve as a simple output mechanism, and 14 I/O pins line each of its four edges for maximal node-to-node connectivity.

Each IXM board is blacked out with gold vias and surface mount components for a slim profile. The surface is lined with multiple symmetrical sets of RGB LEDs, which serve as status lights or a desktop light show.

It’s smart enough to know if it’s plugged into a neighbor rightside up, upside down or sideways, and dynamically establishes the correct power, and signal wires to exchange power and information with its neighbors. It truly is a complex adaptive information and power system. In this sense, it is also robust. If a cell in the motherboard grid detects a faulty neighbor, it can attempt to reprogram its neighbor and reboot its neighbor (because the distinction between the system’s firmware, software, and hardware are intentionally ambiguous and one). If this fails, each cell can then elect to disconnect power to its neighbors and “terminate” it from the network, like a cell would do if it detected cancerous growth in its neighbor.

Like living organisms, IXM cells are “social”. They function best when interacting with other groups of cells, autonomously programming, reprogramming, processing and communicating with each other. They can be attached to the computer via USB using a special cable or connector board, and a grid can accept as many USB inputs as it has free edges.

Fundamentally, it’s about making computer architecture accessible to people besides Intel and AMD…a do-it-yourself, open source physical computer, where the computer itself can adapt and be adapted in plug-and-play fashion, no matter what the project may be. And the beauty of open source means that today, it’s a square board with an ARM processor…tomorrow, it may be an octagon with a processor that doesn’t even exist yet. Welcome to the future of computing.

Item ID: IXM-C-RevA-20090623

Technical Elements per Cell

  • Weight: 24g
  • L x W x H: 1.87” x 1.87” x 0.25”
  • General Purpose I/O: 16 pins
  • Total I/O: 24 pins
  • Processor Type: 32-bit ARM
  • Processor Name: LPC2368
  • Processor Speed: 72 MHz @ 64 Dhrystone MIPS
  • Processor UART: 4 Hardware UARTs EEPROM: IC SRL EEPROM; 128 KB

Living Elements per Cell

  • Senses: Outside Voltage Sense, Inside Voltage Sense
  • Reflexes: Neighbor Shutdown, 4 Blue LEDs, 1 RGB LED
  • Mode of Interaction: Single Switch Input
  • Power Management: Output Power, Real-time Frequency Shifting

Resources and References

The study of Robust Physical Computation uses the IXM processing cells and related hardware to research robust systems.


Programming the Illuminato X Machina: A demo with two cells.

Programming the Illuminato X Machina from Chris Ladden on Vimeo.

Illuminato X Machina Arrays in Action: A longer demo with two arrays of cells, and shows more of the autonomous, cellular functionality of the system.

Illuminato X Machina Arrays In Action from Chris Ladden on Vimeo.

Get in touch if you have any questions, or ideas for something you want me to build.