Hardware Hackers Create a Modular Motherboard

I’ve often wondered why computers – be it laptops or desktop – are so relatively monolithic. Wouldn’t it make much more sense to have a whole cluster of very tiny individual computers, all with their own tiny processor, RAM, data storage, and serial ports, which power up when needed and are easily replaced when broken? Well, Liquidware thought so too, and came up with the Illuminato X Machina.

The Illuminato X Machina is a tiny 2×2″ square with a 72Mhz ARM processor, an 128kb EEPROM chip for data storage, a 16kb SSD, LEDs used for output, and each of the four sides has a port to which another Illuminato X Machina can be plugged into. The tiny machines are smart enough to know if they’re connected to one another, and can establish the correct power and signal wires all by itself.

The X Machina has software-controlled switches to gate the power moving through the system on the fly and a ‘jumping gene’ ability, which means executable code can flow directly from one module to another without always involving a PC-based program downloader.

Each Illuminato X Machina node also has a custom boot loader software that allows it to be programmed and reprogrammed by its neighbors, even as the overall system continues to run, explains Huynh. The X Machina creators hope to tie into the ardent Arduino community. Many simple Arduino sketches will run on the X Machina with no source code changes, they say.

You can see the automated reprogramming in action here – it’s amazing.

It’s of course in a relatively early stage, but it’s cool nonetheless.


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