Hack Manhattan’s MANIC display

A couple of weeks ago while in New York, I stopped by Hack Manhattan to see what everyone was working on. The crew had recently returned from FIGMENT on Governor’s Island, where they had set up a giant game of mind vs. machine LED pong. The last time I visited the hackerspace, I got to play a mini version of the game on a LoL shield on an Arduino by controlling my paddle with a MindWave, a low-cost EEG headset that measures brainwave signals to quantify concentration and relaxation. The harder you concentrate, the better you play. In a head-to-head challenge between my brain and the computer, I did not fare too well.

brain v computer

For FIGMENT Hack Manhattan upgraded the tiny 2″x3″ display¬† to a 6’x8′ wooden display of 192 LEDs. Below is one of the four 3’x4′ modular sections.

hack manhattan

High-tech halved ping pong balls cover each LED for a nicely diffused effect. When I asked what the display was called, a quick brainstorming session produced the name MANIC: Modular Array with Neural Input Control. I’m happy to report I finally beat the computer!

Later on, another Manhattan hacker pulled out one of these:

The second this odd little glow-ball hit the floor, it began an erratic but uncannily lifelike freak-roll in every direction. Transfixed as I was by its soft turquoise glow, it took me a minute to realize that said hacker was controlling the ball’s motion from an ipad. He handed me the device, and within thirty seconds or so I had a good feel for the controls. An intuitive interface tracks your finger’s motion on the ipad screen and translates it into corresponding movements of the ball. You can even select a new glow color from an extensive palette of options!

After we’d all taken turns rolling the ball over various electrical cords, underneath RepRap 3D printers and into everyone’s feet, someone came in and asked with mild surprise, “Oh, we’re not controlling it with our brains yet?”

Each week Hack Manhattan hosts Tech Tuesday, which is open to the public. Check out their calendar for more events.

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