The flow singularity approach is nice and easy but is sort of backwards. You specify the singularities and the resulting flow field is then computed. More often, you have some blob and want to know the resulting flow over it. To do this, a different approach is taken. You define the shape of your blob and other flow field parameters and then Laplace's equation is solved numerically. The solution is the resulting flow field, so this is called a "flow solver".

The trade off here is complexity. Not only for the underlying solution process (differential equation solver), but also for actually using the flow solver (grid generator, boundary conditions, etc.).

However, we found this really neat Python based solver:

This is super easy to use since the setup is simply a matrix. You fill the matrix with one of the possible flow elements, and then send it to the solver. The solver outputs the resulting flow field, also as a matrix.

This pairs nicely with the RGB matrix. The idea is to use the RGB matrix as a viewer for the flow solution. The solver won't actually run on the Matrix Portal* so we'll do something like this:

  1. Install the flow solver on a PC.
  2. Define our blob and run the solver on the PC.
  3. Output flow solution to a file.
  4. Copy solution file to Matrix Portal.
  5. Run viewer script on Matrix Portal.

*it probably could though, given enough time to port the code to CircuitPython.

Install Required Software

Do this software setup on the PC you want to run the flow solver on.

You'll need the following software. Click the links to go to installation instructions.

  • Python - you may already have this installed.
  • NumPy - used by the flow solver.
  • Pillow/PIL - used to read BMP defining input geometry.

Then we need to install the flow solver software. If you are familiar with git, you can just clone the solver repo linked above. Otherwise, you can download the solver code as follows:

  • Go to the repo on Github.
  • Click the green Code button.
  • Click Download ZIP and save the file.
  • Unzip the contents to a folder location on your PC.

We'll work in the folder location where you saved the solver. So remember it.

Define Input Geometry

This is done with a BMP file. It should be a black and white image the same size as the RGB matrix. See the next section for details about creating this file.

Solver Script

Run this on your PC.

OK, now grab the solver script which will read in your BMP file, run the solver, and then output the results. To make things easy to run, save a copy of this file in the same folder as flow solver that was download above.

# SPDX-FileCopyrightText: 2020 Carter Nelson for Adafruit Industries
# SPDX-License-Identifier: MIT

# NOTE: Run this on your PC, not the Matrix Portal.
import sys
import numpy as np
from PIL import Image
from ecoulements import systeme

# load geometry
grid = np.where(np.asarray([1])), 1, 0)

# add inlet / outlet flows
inlet = np.array([2] * grid.shape[0])
outlet = np.array([3] * grid.shape[0])
grid = np.hstack((inlet[:, None], grid, outlet[:, None]))

# add upper/ lower walls
wall = np.array([0] * grid.shape[1])
grid = np.vstack((wall, grid, wall))

# solve
_, VX, VY, _ = systeme.sol(grid)

# save results to file
with open(OUTFILE , "w") as fp:
    fp.write("nan = None\n")
    fp.write("solution = {\n")
    fp.write(str(VX[1:-1, 1:-1].tolist()))
    fp.write(str(VY[1:-1, 1:-1].tolist()))

# done
print("DONE! Results saved to", OUTFILE)

To run the solver, use the following command:

python geometry.bmp

where geometry.bmp is the BMP file you created to define your input geometry. You can use a different name if you want, but the BMP file should be located in the same folder location.

If it runs without errors, it should say DONE and the results will be in a new file named

Move on to the next section for how to view those results!

Viewer Script

Run this on the Matrix Portal.

Installing Project Code

To use with CircuitPython, you need to first install a few libraries, into the lib folder on your CIRCUITPY drive. Then you need to update with the example script.

Thankfully, we can do this in one go. In the example below, click the Download Project Bundle button below to download the necessary libraries and the file in a zip file. Extract the contents of the zip file, open the directory Matrix_Portal_Flow_Viewer/flow_viewer/ and then click on the directory that matches the version of CircuitPython you're using and copy the contents of that directory to your CIRCUITPY drive.

Your CIRCUITPY drive should now look similar to the following image:

The CircuitPython libraries required are the same as for the singularity viewer sketch.
# SPDX-FileCopyrightText: 2020 Carter Nelson for Adafruit Industries
# SPDX-License-Identifier: MIT

# NOTE: Run this on the Matrix Portal.
import time
import math
import displayio
from adafruit_matrixportal.matrix import Matrix

from flow_solution import solution

#--| User Config |-----------------------------------------
#   (x, y) starting location
    (0, 1),
    (0, 3),
    (0, 5),
    (0, 7),
    (0, 9),
    (0, 11),
    (0, 13),
    (0, 15),
    (0, 17),
    (0, 19),
    (0, 21),
    (0, 23),
    (0, 25),
    (0, 27),
    (0, 29),
BACK_COLOR = 0x000000 # background fill
SOLI_COLOR = 0xADAF00 # solids
HEAD_COLOR = 0x00FFFF # leading particles
TAIL_COLOR = 0x000A0A # trailing particles
TAIL_LENGTH = 10      # length in pixels
DELAY = 0.02          # smaller = faster

# use solution to define other items
VX = solution['VX']
VY = solution['VY']
# meh...too lazy to list comp
for row in range(len(VX)):
    for col, v in enumerate(VX[row]):
        if v is None:
            SOLIDS.append((col, row))

# matrix and displayio setup
matrix = Matrix(width=MATRIX_WIDTH, height=MATRIX_HEIGHT, bit_depth=6)
display = matrix.display
group = displayio.Group()
display.root_group = group

bitmap = displayio.Bitmap(display.width, display.height, 4)

palette = displayio.Palette(4)
palette[0] = BACK_COLOR
palette[1] = SOLI_COLOR
palette[2] = HEAD_COLOR
palette[3] = TAIL_COLOR

tile_grid = displayio.TileGrid(bitmap, pixel_shader=palette)

# global to store streamline data

def compute_streamlines():
    '''Compute streamline for each starting point (seed) defined.'''
    for seed in SEEDS:
        streamline = []
        x, y = seed
        px = round(x)
        py = round(y)
        vx = VX[py][px]
        vy = VY[py][px]
        streamline.append( ((px, py), (vx, vy)) )
        steps = 0
        while x < MATRIX_WIDTH and steps < 2 * MATRIX_WIDTH:
            nx = round(x)
            ny = round(y)
            # if we've moved to a new pixel, store the info
            if nx != px or ny != py:
                streamline.append( ((nx, ny), (vx, vy)) )
                px = nx
                py = ny
            if 0 <= nx < MATRIX_WIDTH and 0 <= ny < MATRIX_HEIGHT:
                vx = VX[ny][nx]
                vy = VY[ny][nx]
            if vx is None or vy is None:
            x += vx
            y += vy
            steps += 1
        # add streamline to global store

def show_solids():
    for s in SOLIDS:
            x, y = s
            bitmap[round(x), round(y)] = 1
        except: # pylint: disable=bare-except
            pass # just don't draw it

def show_streamlines():
    '''Draw the streamlines.'''
    for sl, head in enumerate(HEADS):
            streamline = STREAMLINES[sl]
            index = round(head)
            length = min(index, TAIL_LENGTH)
            # draw tail
            for data in streamline[index-length:index]:
                x, y = data[0]
                bitmap[round(x), round(y)] = 3
            # draw head
            bitmap[round(x), round(y)] = 2
        except: # pylint: disable=bare-except
            pass # just don't draw it

def animate_streamlines():
    '''Update the current location (head position) along each streamline.'''
    reset_heads = True
    for sl, head in enumerate(HEADS):
        # get associated streamline
        streamline = STREAMLINES[sl]
        # compute index
        index = round(head)
        # get velocity
        if index < len(streamline):
            vx, vy = streamline[index][1]
            reset_heads = False
            vx, vy = streamline[-1][1]
        # move head
        HEADS[sl] += math.sqrt(vx*vx + vy*vy)
    if reset_heads:
        # all streamlines have reached the end, so reset to start
        for index, _ in enumerate(HEADS):
            HEADS[index] = 0

def update_display():
    '''Update the matrix display.'''
    display.auto_refresh = False
    display.auto_refresh = True

print('Computing streamlines...', end='')
while True:

After running the solver script on your PC, you should end up with a file named Copy that file to your CIRCUITPY folder. Then use the following script to view the results.

Customizing The Viewer

Similar to our singularity viewer, you can customize the behavior. Look for the User Config section near the top. The options are the same as for the singularity viewer, so see the information in that section.

This guide was first published on Nov 17, 2020. It was last updated on Jun 16, 2024.

This page (Flow Solver Viewer) was last updated on Jun 16, 2024.

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