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Blinky Blocks

Rainbow Application

The key to wide dissemination of a programmable matter material is achieving the necessary scale in terms of both quantity and cost. Hundreds or thousands of units are necessary, as otherwise the emergent properties of ensemble programming are not apparent. To be able to disseminate hundreds of units to many different groups, they must be affordable.

A Blinky Blocks system is a modular distributed execution environment composed of centimeter-size blocks that are attached to each other using magnets.

Each block, roughly a 40mm cube, has sufficient processing, communication (serial link with up to 6 neighbors), and storage capabilities to implement a wide variety of distributed tasks.

Blinky Blocks are powered with Meld

Users are encouraged to leave the power on and plug and unplug units during runtime to enable changes in behavior based on new physical groupings. Color change is the primary mode of feedback to the user—each block has several powerful RGB LEDs so that they can glow with any color and brightness level and be visible in normal office lighting conditions. Several secondary capabilities also exist. The blocks can detect their current orientation, as well as changes in orientation and sudden impulses such as shaking or tapping. They are also able to play sounds through their speaker, from simple beeps to complex waveforms streamed off their internal storage. Capturing sound is possible with the onboard microphone.

In a typical usage situation, each Blinky Block in an ensemble is loaded with the same Meld program.

Publications and Documents

Blinky blocks: a physical ensemble programming platform,
    Brian T. Kirby, Michael Ashley-Rollman, and Seth Copen Goldstein. In CHI '11 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pages 1111–1116, 2011.