Building the Pong-a-Tron

Building the Pong-a-Tron

All it took was four iPads, two Raspberry Pis, 12 Arduinos, a Mac Mini, and 2000 RGB LEDs
Garrett Winther
Travis Lee
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Noam is a software-messaging platform created by IDEO to help hardware and software tools communicate with one another. To introduce Noam to the world, we wanted to build a physical manifestation of the platform, something that was—like Noam—fun and exciting but also remarkably simple to use.

After a bit of brainstorming, we hit on the perfect idea: a Noam-enabled modern twist on Pong, the classic, endlessly absorbing old video game.

The Pong-a-tron is considerably more complex than its predecessor. It links together four iPads, two Raspberry Pis, 12 Arduinos, 24 stepper motors, a Mac Mini, two Node.js applications, a Processing sketch, an Objective-C app, and over 2000 RGB LEDs. Noam coordinates the entire menagerie by hosting a conversation between all the different elements.

The Pong game itself was written in Node and broadcasts paddle and ball positions, which are then rendered on various portions of the overall display. The paddles are translated into physical "pixel" strips along the edges of the Pong-a-tron, while the ball moves seamlessly from Arduino-controlled RGB LEDs to iPads and Raspberry Pis.

The Pong-a-tron was initially showcased at Solid Conference 2014 and is now a permanent feature in the lobby of IDEO Chicago. Stop by and see it in person at a studio event, or pay Noam a virtual visit.

The Pong-a-tron would not be possible without the incredible talent, skill, collaboration and brainpower of many IDEOers including: Joe Banks, John Grimley, Travis Lee, Zeke Markshausen, David Sjunnesson, Ben Syverson, Jon Wettersten, Garrett Winther, and more. Video by Ben Syverson.

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Garrett Winther
A build-to-think Mechanical Engineer, Garrett Winther is passionate about using rapid, iterative prototyping to go from ideas to action in record time.
Travis Lee
For over a decade at IDEO, Travis has helped leaders at the helm of Fortune 500 companies to bootstrapped startups build products, services, and ventures that reinvent their organizations and disrupt markets.

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