The Linkage Computer


This is my final project for 6.849: Geometric Folding Algorithms by Prof. Erik Demaine, the happiest genius of the world.

In fact I prefer to call it ‘the origami class’, which sounds more obscure to my friends. And complex, curving origami was indeed what I expected myself to do at the beginning. Well, the field turned out to be much broader and even more interesting (absolutely an understatement).

Anyway one day we were introduced to Kemp’s Universality Theorem, which says ‘there is a linkage that signs your name’. In proving that Kemp invented 3 gadgets: multiplicator, additor and translator, which perform arithmetic operations on any input angle. Then the idea came to me that if we can design gadgets that perform boolean operations, we can build a computer from just hinged bars.

I always had a thing for mechanical computers. The article that talks about the rope-and-pulley computer by Apraphulians was my all-time favorite of Scientific Americans. This project might be a little nerdy, but who knows — mechanical logic gates do make sense on nanoscale and in extreme environments like outer space.

Here is how I represent bits with bars. Note that each bar is constrained to rotate in half plane so I gain a nice ‘black box’ feature where the implementation of one gadget does not disrupt the rest of the machine.

Here are the logic gates: translator (moving a logic state across space), invertor (X -> not X), AND gate / OR gate (they are mirrored image of each other). Watch the video to see how they work.

Using the above gadgets I will be able to build a full adder (A, B, Cin as input and S, Cout as output). I’ve made a simple simulation with Processing. Click the input bars to switch states:

The models I constructed use wood sticks and rivets. I also proposed another way of building the gadgets — cut and fold them from one piece of flat material. It would be awesome to cut a whole mechanical computer out of one piece of thin metal, roll it and take it with you to a place with no electricity and do some crazy computation.

I’ll be continuing this project during the winter break. Many thanks to Erik & Martin Demaine and Tomohiro Tachi. It’s been so cool!

Tools used: AutoCAD, Processing

Redrawing the Map of Great Britain from a Network of Human Interactions


This paper has been published on PLoS ONE: full text

Do regional boundaries defined by governments respect the natural way that people interact across space? The URB team of SENSEable City Lab analyzed 12 billion anonymized landline calls in Great Britain to illustrate the true connections between places. The strength of connection is defined by the frequency and period of phone calls. It is revealed that people tend to communicate with those that are geographically close to them. Therefore, it is possible to identify clusters of connections as regional groups. It is fun to compare these new boundaries with existing ones and see how much people really love each other.

The visualization challenge here is the extra dense connections. An ideal vis solution should show clearer and finer pattern as data accumulates, not the opposite. Mauro Martino worked with the team from the beginning and derived the primary concept. I hopped on board later and finished with the final video to elaborate the whole idea. Processing is not able to handle this scale of objects (especially in animation) so a lot of pre-processing was done exclusively for each scene.

For those who cannot use YouTube, click this instead:

 

The research has also been covered by BBC and The Economist.

Collaborators in visualization: Mauro Martino, Francesco Calabrese
Tools used: Processing, R, Premiere