Posted: December 17, 2008
Randy Glenn …
is the engineer who I partnered with to develop Mondomatrix. Here he gives a demo at the release party (Emily Carr University of Art and Design). Randy is a supper genius and I loved working with him, he layed out all the circuits and brought the concept to fruition.
Check out his work: http://randyglenn.ca
More about MondoMatrix
Creative electronics are an essential tool for interactivity in the contemporary arts. Creative electronics allow artists to use inputs (sensors, switches, etc.) and outputs (lights, motors, etc.) to make art that moves, illuminates and interacts. The power of creative electronics combined with computers makes advanced interactive art projects possible. A wide range of artists and designers use interactive electronics to develop wearable computing, creative displays and immersive media installations. However, there are limitations in available creative electronics hardware that restrict the potential of the available software. The bottleneck in the creative electronics industry is currently due to hardware limitations. New interactive electronic artists and artworks are constantly emerging and new tools must be developed to support the sustained growth of the creative electronics community.
‘Arduino’ is a popular creative electronics project. “Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.”1 Arduino is widely-adopted by creative electronics artists. It can also be interfaced with a computer for even more powerful programming options. However, limitations in the Arduino hardware prevent Arduino projects from reaching larger scales.
The essential problem is that Arduino can only control a limited number of elements. The basic Arduino board, the Duemilanove can control fourteen digital input and output (I/O) pins and six analogue I/O pins. Arduino had already recognized these limitations and has been expanding the Arduino hardware. For example, Arduino released the Arduino Mega with fifty-four digital I/O pins and sixteen analogue pins to provide more options for Arduino users. These Arduino expansions were made possible by the increased capacity of the microcontroller (chip) that the Arduino uses. “The current basic board, the Duemilanove, uses the Atmel ATmega328” and “The Arduino Mega is based on the ATmega1280”.1 Nevertheless, the Arduino user is still limited to the fifty-four digital and sixteen analogue I/O pins. Even if the Atmel ATmega chips were to improve dramatically there would still be an essential limitation in the number of options from the Arduino hardware device.
With this problem in mind, Morgan Rauscher (a master’s candidate at Emily Carr University) in partnership with Randy Glenn (founder of Surreality Labs in Toronto) co-creatively developed a new microcontroller that radically expands the Arduino platform. The project began in the summer of 2009 and the goal was to utilize the power and flexibility of the Arduino Programming Language but expand the Arduino hardware platform to reduce the limitations of the Arduino platform. The project was given the name ‘Displayduino’ to commemorate the project’s focus on interactive ‘visual’ and installation art (also acknowledging Arduino with ‘duino’). The challenge was to produce a microcontroller that can utilize the already popular Arduino but increase the control that the Arduino hardware provides.
The solution was to develop Displayduino (refer to figure 1) a new Arduino hardware microcontroller that uses the Recommended Standard 485 (RS485) network connection to carry serial binary data signals (information) to Displayduino ‘expansion boards’. The Displayduino RS485 interface can be connected in series (‘daisy chained’2) to Displayduino expansion boards supporting massive hardware expansions. Using the RS485 network, Displayduino projects become modular and can scale up any Arduino-based project. If the artist wants a larger project they simply need to add more Displayduino expansion boards. The most notable achievement of the Displayduino project is the power of modular expansion to the current Arduino platform. This gives creative electronics artists the power to scale their projects up or down using only one Displayduino microcontroller and the already popular Arduino Programming Language.
A lengthy design process was encountered at various stages in the development of Displayduino. Several virtual prototypes were generated (refer to 2) to determine the feasibility and functionality of the new controller. In addition to designing the Displayduino microcontroller, three expansion boards were designed and built. Displayduino expansion boards use information that is send over the RS485 network to facilitate modular project expansions. The Displayduino expansion boards designed were ServoMatrix, LEDMatrix, and PowerMatrix.
ServoMatrix (refer to figure 3) is a Displayduino expansion board that can control sixty-four servos independently. The servos and ServoMatrix are powered by two different sources. This allows for separate power supplies to the board and to the servos. The benefits of this design approach are power safety, component protection and versatility. Each row of eight servos can be independently powered and the result is that each ServoMatrix expansion board can have eight different types of servos running at the same time (on one ServoMatrix). If a given project requires multiple ServoMatrix boards, the Displayduino controller can manage up to 64 boards in a row. Therefore, only one Displayduino microcontroller can manage thousands of servos. In addition, there are plans to expand this number even further. Using multiple Displayduino controllers and software array techniques this number is only limited by the amount of electrical power that is available. In contrast to the Displayduino hardware, using current Arduino hardware, only a hand full of servos can be safely operated.
LEDMatrix (refer to figure 4) is another Displayduino expansion board that was developed in the summer of 2009. LEDMatrix can control sixty-four tri-color frequency modulated light emitting diodes (LEDs). LEDMatrix controls red, green and blue (RGB) LEDs and can create full color effects and displays. Just as with the ServoMatrix, LEDMatrix has separate power ports for the LEDs and the LEDMatrix controller. This design element protects both the LEDMatrix board and the LEDs. Large full color pixels can be output from the LEDMatrix to create numerous scalable color displays. The LEDMatrix was specifically designed to assist artists and designers creating projects using full color LED effects.
The PowerMatrix was the third expansion board designed (2009) and is still in final development. PowerMatrix is scheduled to be released in the winter of 2009. The board is capable of controlling 32 ‘power ports’ that can deliver a range of voltage to each of the 32 ports. The controller will therefore be able to control any 32 electrical devices that use a range of 0 to 12 V of power. The PowerMatrix truly embodies the goal of the Displayduino project because it expands the Arduino hardware technology to electronic devices of all kinds (of a potentially unlimited number).
The Displayduino microcontroller connected to an array of expansion boards can control thousands of LEDs, servos, and other electronics devices. The Displayduino project expands the Arduino output capacity from under 100 connections to thousands. Additionally, because the Displayduino technology is modular, individual projects can expand or only use the thirty-one digital and seven analogue I/Os pins that come standard on the Displayduino controller.
Displayduino controllers and expansion boards also come with screw terminals allowing for the re-use of the boards in several projects, limiting soldering, and facilitating rapid prototyping applications. Displayduino also uses the Arduino programming language (interface) so it can be easily learned by new users who are already familiar with Arduino programming. In addition a website www.displayduino.comwas developed to offer this new open source technology to the public. The boards are available, built and tested. Tutorials, sample code and instructional guidance will be offered as developments in Displayduino become available.
There is no question that Arduino is one the most successful creative electronics platforms currently in use. In order to specifically cater to the art and design community and expand on the success of Arduino, Displayduino was born. It is the long term goal of the Displayduino project to continue to provide expandability to the Arduino platform and offer new avenues of creative electronics exploration.