Three 80" touchscreens + "hackable" simulations of complex systems + a public walkway

Your digital playground awaits!

DigiPlay is located in a public walkway on the first floor of the Education Tower at the University of Calgary. Each of the 80-inch touchscreens displays a simulation of a complex system coded using Processing, an open-source programming language which has many powerful tools for visualizations and is used by professional programmers and computer scientists as well as digital artists. However, the screens aren't just for displaying the simulations - the designers would like to invite you to access all of the code that makes them run and "hack" the simulations, turning it into something new and meaningful to you.

Our simulations are designed by students and faculty at the Werklund School of Education, and are frequently being updated or swapped for something new. In the sections below, we detail the current simulations running at DigiPlay.

Art Boids

Designed by Jordan Kidney

Craig Reynolds, artificial life and computer graphics expert, created the original Boids artificial life simulation in 1986. The Boids artificial life program simulates the flocking behaviour of birds based upon the emergent properties created by individual creatures following simple rules. The name "boid" corresponds to a shortened version of "bird-oid object", which refers to a bird-like object. The complexity of Boids arises from the interaction of individual agents (the boids, in this case) adhering to a set of simple rules. The rules applied in the simplest Boids world are as follows:

  • separation: steer to avoid crowding local flockmates
  • alignment: steer towards the average heading of local flockmates
  • cohesion: steer to move toward the average position (centre of mass) of local flockmates

In this simulation, each triangle you see represents a single agent/Boid. My version of the simulation built upon the original simulation set up by Daniel Shiffman to recreate Craig Reynolds's Boid simulation in Processing (https://processing.org/). I introduced an art aspect into the simulation to allow for a form of generative art to be created. The Boids leave trails of paint as they swarm and flocked over the screen. Generative art refers to art that in whole or in part has been created with the use of an autonomous system. An autonomous system in this context is generally one that is non-human and can independently determine features of an artwork that would otherwise require decisions made directly by the artist.

Art Boids with Predators

Designed by Jordan Kidney

This simulation builds upon the original ideas from the Art Boids simulation an adds in a new type of Boid: the “Predator”. Original Boids follow the original three rules in relation to other basic Boids and add in a new rule of how much to try an avoid the predator Boids. Predator Boids also follow the same original three rules in relation to other predator Boids and add in a new rule on how much they try to chase basic Boids. The introduction of predators into the simulation adds a new twist concerning the art that is generated by the system.

Avalanching Sandpile

Designed by Stephanie Hladik

This sandpile simulation is adapted from the original Bak-Tang-Wiesenfeld Model (1987), and is an example of a cellular automaton, in which a grid of cells operates according to particular rules (Berto & Tagliabue, 2017). In this sandpile simulation, each cell, or square, is coloured in accordance to how many grains of sand are piled in that cell. Sand grains are dropped one at a time from above, which pile up on the grid. Once the pile on one cell reaches a certain height (noted as “Grains to Avalanche” in the simulation), an avalanche will occur, spilling those grains of sand from that cell into its surrounding cells. The “Avalanche Grid” on the screen shows exactly how the avalanching sand grains will be redistributed. As more grains are added and more avalanches occur, patterns in the sandpile emerge from these rules.

Each avalanche pattern creates a distinct, emergent pattern across the screen. Is the pattern symmetric? What impact is made by changing one square in the distribution? The avalanching sandpiles take on the form of shifting and emergent artwork. Visitors can easily contribute their own artistic vision by changing aspects of the sandpile including the size, shape, and colour of the sand grains, the speed at which they fall, and more. Previous “hacks” include creating a rainbow of sand, or syncing up brightly-colours large grains of sand to the music from a nearby DJ booth. Something as simple as falling grains of sand can trigger a playful exploration of physics, mathematics, computing, and art.