Blinky fun cellular automata
In 1970, John Conway came up with a 1-player game called Game of Life
. The Game of Life is a mathematical game that simulates 'colonies' that grow or die based on how crowded or lonely they are and is known for the way it creates a beautiful organic display out of randomness.
Here is a design for a simple electronic project that plays Conway's Game of Life. Make one kit and keep it on your desk, or attach multiple kit modules together to create a large display.
Originally created by Dropout Design, this revision adds a few extra features. You can build the boards from the schematic and open source firmware, or buy full kits from the Adafruit
or Make Magazine online shops. The kit is very easy to make and an excellent first electronics project. It is perfect for workshops since at the end everyone can connect their completed module
- Each kit displays a 4x4 grid (16 LEDs)
- Connect as many kits as youd like, in any configuration, to create a larger game board.
- Runs off of 2 AA batteries, but can be easily modified to run off of USB or wall-wart power.
- On/Off button to save power, also for resetting the display.
- Automatically resets if the colony has died or stagnated (regeneration).
- Backwards compatible with older versions.
Learn how to solder with tons of tutorials!Don't forget to learn how to use your multimeter too!
There are a few tools that are required for assembly. None of these tools are included. If you don't have them, now would be a good time to borrow or purchase them. They are very very handy whenever assembling/fixing/modifying electronic devices! I provide links to buy them, but of course, you should get them wherever is most convenient/inexpensive. Many of these parts are available in a place like Radio Shack or other (higher quality) DIY electronics stores.
Bill of Material
Check to make sure your kit comes with the following parts. Sometimes we make mistakes so double check everything and email [email protected]
if you need replacements!
Click on the schematic for the higher-res image.
If you're planning to make a really large array, or you want to make this kit work with the older Game-of-Life kits that had 9V battery inputs then here are extra parts you may need.
part #7805 TO-220 package
For older-version compatibility
If you're using a 7805, this will help power stability.
||Ceramic 0.1uF capacitor (104)
If you're using a 7805, this will help power stability.
4-pin right angle male header.
For easily connecting multiple kits together. The purchase links are for 'breakaway' 36-pin header, so just buy one and break off 4-pin pieces.
4-pin right angle female header.
For easily connecting multiple kits.
For reprogramming chip with new firmware.
There are tons of Game of Life kits out there but what is cool about this design is that you can plug together multiple boards to create a mega-display! Power and communications is passed from board to board, so the whole thing updates at once.
Older and Newer versions
If you are connecting to an older version (v1.2 or less) of the board, with a 7805, you will have to solder in a 7805 into your kit in location IC2
. Otherwise the 9V DC power will fry your GoL module!
For these instructions, I will assume you are only connecting v1.3 or higher (Adafruit design) kits together. If there's a button in your kit, then it's a v1.3 or higher kit.
The modules must be connected in the correct orientation. Each module has 4 'ports' labelled North, South, East
. To connect a module to another, make sure that East
connects to West
connects to South
! Another way of saying it is, make use the large Make
: logo is always the same direction.
Method 1: Solder it
The easiest way to connect two modules together is to first line them up next to each other.
Then bend a leftover small piece of wire into a staple.
Thread it through the adjacent holes, then solder to make a connection to both boards.
Then turn over and solder the other side too. This is a permanent connection, so make sure to use lots of solder on both sides to get a nice strong connection.
You can also do it without wires, just put a blob of solder on both sides.
Then drag the soldering iron between the two boards, and slowly lift it in the middle.
With a little practice you can easily create a solder bridge.
Don't forget to do the other side too!
Method 2: Plug & Play
Another way to connect them is to use right-angle header to allow plug-and-play of the modules. One module has a female (receptacle) connector. The other has a male (plug) connector. Check the parts
page for links on where to buy right angle header.
If you use header, make sure it looks like the image below, if everyone sticks to this convention you'll be able to connect up to any other kit!
Make a cube!
If you have 5 or 6 GoL boards, you can make a funky cube. First, assemble 5 or 6 boards.
Place the first board in a vise and start with the North port.
Put plenty of solder on the first tab.
Solder one of the excess wire bits onto it.
Get the next board lined up. Make sure you are connecting it to the South port.
Bend the wire down and solder it to the second board.
Repeat for all 4 tabs.
Test the two boards by touching the battery case to the + and - on one of the boards. The game should play on both boards.
Connect a third board. The trick to knowing how to orient boards is that you can always connect North and East & South and West ports together. In this case we connect West and North of the new board to the existing structure.
Test the cube after each new board to make sure you've got it on right.
When you're done you can attach the battery pack pack and stick it onto the inside.
This is a very short manual because the kit is very easy to use!
Powering your kit from AA batteries or 3V DC power supply
This version of the GoL kit requires between 3 and 5V DC to run. That means you can't run it off of a 9V battery. You can, however, run it off of 2 batteries or a USB cable! Any kind of AA battery, rechargable or alkaline, is just fine. If the kit gets dim, just recharge your batteries. It should last for about 100 hours on one set of fresh batteries! If you turn the kit off when not in used, it will last even longer, of course.
Powering your kit from 9V batteries or a 9-12V DC power supply
If you'd like to run the kit off a 9V-12V DC wall adapter or a 9V battery, you'll need to place a standard 7805 voltage regulator in location IC2 and remove the jumper wire. If you have multiple kits connected together, each one will need a 7805. See the parts list for where to buy a 7805.
There's a little button on each kit which you can use to turn it on or off. This will save battery when the kit isn't in use. Simply press-and-hold the button for a few seconds. It should display a checkerboard pattern and then go out. The kit is now off. To turn it back on simply press the button (you don't have to hold it though) and it will start up again.
If you want to reset the kit (because, say, it gets into a stable pattern and you'd like it to do something else) simply press the button but don't hold it down.
Schematic and Layout
Schematic is basically the same as the Dropout Design version, except LEDs are now common cathod and a button has been added. The board layout was redone to allow using right angle headers and to make assembly a little easier.
Schematic and layout files are at GitHub
(CC 2.5 SA-BY) Click Download Source
to grab them.
The v1.3 firmware, based heavily on the Dropout Design code. Added:
Download from GitHub
- Supports a On/Off/Reset button
- Auto-reset on static-image
- Slightly slower delay between steps
- LEDs are common cathode
, released under GPL. Click Download Source
to grab them.