Game of Life Kit

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Introduction: Game of Life Kit

The Game of Life Boards are a scalable platform for cellular automata visualizations. Each board contains 16 LEDs in a 4x4 grid, a microcontroller, and a communications and power distribution network. With the available firmware, they execute Conway's Game of Life. Boards can act alone, or can be plugged into other boards to create a larger display. You can get this kit from the MAKE store.

Each kit comes standard with green LEDs, but any LEDs can be used by adjusting the values of the resistors. The board accepts 6 to 12V DC power, and each board draws a maximum of approximately 0.25 amps.

This kit is great for soldering beginners. To learn the basics of soldering check out this great guide by noahw. Also, here's a good video tutorial from the MAKE blog. Bre has a cool video about this on the MAKE blog.

Currently, this guide details basic construction. An explanation for connecting multiple boards will be up soon, too!

Step 1: What You Get and What You Need.

Check out the pictures for what you get with the kit, the tools you'll need, and what extra components you'll need.

You may want to check out Dropout Design's own documentation, and print it out. They have a nifty placement diagram as well as a schematic.

What you get:
Board
Atmega48 IC
Regulator
16 Leds
16 Resistors
2 Capacitors

What tools you need:
Rosin core, 60/40 solder
Soldering Iron hopefully with a pencil-like tip
Wire clippers
A vice to hold up the PCB
(You can get all this stuff really cheap at http://www.all-spec.com/ or http://www.allelectronics.com/)

What components you need:
6V-12V power supply
Wire to connect power supply to board
(An easy way is to get a 9V battery with a clip, as pictured)

Step 2: Resistance!

Lets start populating the board with components in size order (as Dropout's documentation suggests). The first would be resistors.

Bend the wires at the resistor and stick them into the holes labeled R1-R16. (Orientation doesn't matter in this case, but it will for the LED's so keep that in mind).

Bend the wires back a little after stick them in so the resistors don't fall out when you turn the board over.

Now that they're all in, you can solder them into place.

Finally, use the wire clippers to snip off the long wires, leaving a small tail sticking out just like on professional grade boards. Take caution not to poke any parts of the board with either left over wire or the wire clippers.

Step 3: Light!

Similar to the previous section, lets put in all 16 LEDs.

Now, this is minutely tricky! Because LEDs have positive (longer) and negative (shorter) terminals it's important to orient them correctly (or nothing will work, etc.) Check out the picture for orientation. This is a good way to learn a bit about schematics: you can follow the connections on the schematic to to see which end of the LED runs to the resistor -- then check the wires on the board itself.

Again it may help to bend the wires after you've stuck the LED into the board so it doesn't fall out. (And be careful not to break anything and all that.)

Before soldering double check that all the LEDs are oriented correctly. After soldering cut off the excess wires.

Step 4: Capacity and Regulation

More sticking, soldering, and cutting here.

Stick the yellowy capacitors into C1 and C2, and solder them into place. Then cut the wires. Just like in steps 2 and 3.

The regulator is also polarized so make sure it matches the orientation in the picture.

At this point you can also solder the IC on if you want, but from experience it's never fallen out or lost contact. If you have a way of programming it or want to you don't have to solder.

Step 5: Power!

The main construction is complete!

You'll need to find the power terminals. Look for the PWR label, and check the picture for orientation.

If you have a clip or some kind of battery holder. The procedure is the same, you put the negative (usually black) end on the terminal closer to the MAKE sign. The positive (usually red) goes on the other. This way the battery doesn't fall off.

Step 6: Connections!

You can connect a bunch of Game of Life boards via the side terminals. The boards have to be aligned in the same direction, eg., you should connect a board's "N" connectors with "S" connectors on the other board. In other words, all the connected boards will have the same orientation. You only need one power supply per board.

Soldering the boards together at the terminals should keep them connected.The game is more interesting when there's a few boards connected.

Step 7: Add a Switch (optional)

One of the problems with this kit is that it doesn't have an easy way of switching the thing on or off without disconnecting the battery or pulling the cable. The easy solution is to solder on a switch!

Radioshack carries a perfect switch (275-645A). Solder it onto the board in the appropriate place. It doesn't matter what orientation it's in. Solder the wires to the switch, not the board. This seems difficult because the terminals are tiny, but it actually isn't. However, when you solder, remember orient them correctly. The negative is close to the "MAKE" logo.

See photos below.

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Just a head's up: instead of suggesting folks just "plop" the Atmega48 into the pcb for reusability, it would be better to solder a 28-pin DIP socket to the board so the Atmega48 is removable, yet fits nice and snug. ;)

Hey I was just wondering if there were any schematics for this. I'm just wondering you know cause it would seem more interesting if I could build the entire thing instead of just solder some diodes and stuff to it ya know.

Where can i get the .hex file? i burned the chip and i have another one without the program :) my new chip is the atmega8.. can i use that one?

It's a popular kit, but i'd be wary of a craze of manual re-writing going on. There's not much point in going back in time and documenting all the electronics kits ever released. But still a good instructables

Would it be possible to cover a large sphere (llike a big toy ball from walmart) with these boards, and wire them all together in such a way that there would be no beginning or end? And if so, how tacky would it look as a ceiling light/chandalier in my apartment? -Abram

They're flat boards. So you can cover a ball, but it'd look weird. It would look very strange, indeed.

What is the size of the board? I'm wondering how many of these I would need to cover something.

They're about 3"x3" but that's not exact. Email the Make store, I'd say.