This was my senior year Science and Engineering fair project! This project also served as a sort of self driven engineering capstone project of my highschool experience. We placed 10th at my high school fair and earned a citation from the Massachusetts House of Representatives, 5th at the region 4 fair, qualifying for the Distrigas awards banquet, and 2nd place tier at the Massachusetts state fair held at MIT, placing 3rd Engineering overall.
Introduction/Rationale: Large groups of fireflies have been observed to synchronize their blinking in their natural environment. This behavior is seen across distinct species of fireflies, the most well known being Photinus carolinus and Pteroptyx malaccae. Fireflies possess limited visual range, and yet are able to synchronize across large swarms made up of thousands of insects. Last year we modeled this phenomenon using a hardwired network of interconnected arduinos. Using the skills and intuition gained through this experience, we plan to develop a new untethered system for use in various further applications. Firefly synchronization as a strategy is distinctive in that it facilitates the synchronization of events in a system strictly without the need for a dedicated clock. This is useful in situations where events need to be synchronized to each other, but have no need for absolute timings and the added complexity to the system that comes with it. Several other groups have developed wireless synchronization systems inspired by fireflies, but our specific goal is ultimately to construct a versatile and low cost platform to trigger synchronized events.
Engineering project goal: We will develop an entirely new platform as a conceptual extension of our previous work. This new platform will consist of untethered Arduino modules, each acting as a firefly in a swarm to achieve systematic synchronization. If time permits, we will then implement this system in a variety of settings.
Procedure: Each Arduino models a “firefly” in a firefly swarm. Each module will send out pulses on a designated “intrinsic period,” self correcting to whichever pulses it hears in order to achieve systematic synchronization. The modules will be designed to be as flexible as possible, so no synchronization start button or other controls need be placed on the system. A characteristic of this new system is that there will be no defined structure to the communications, and the relationships of the fireflies will be effectively random. This complicates the algorithm requirements as the number of input signals to each firefly is variable. The individual firefly arduinos will each be loaded with the exact same program that has been written in the Arduino Integrated Development Environment (IDE). The arduinos each then adjust their behavior based on the behavior of their neighbors. The only safety risk identified is a low risk of fire hazard and electric shock caused by powering the arduinos over battery. Care will be taken to follow manufacturer instructions on proper storage and charging of batteries and low voltages will be used.
Materials: At least 6 Arduino Megas. The Arduino Mega is a versatile microcontroller which should have all the capabilities necessary for this project. These will be reused from last year’s project, keeping costs low. Arduino specs include:
Operating Voltage 5V
Input Voltage (recommended) 7-12V
Input Voltage (limits) 6-20V
Digital I/O Pins 54 (of which 15 provide PWM output)
Analog Input Pins 16
DC Current per I/O Pin 40 mA
DC Current for 3.3V Pin 50 mA
Flash Memory 128 KB
SRAM 8 KB
EEPROM 4 KB
Clock Speed 16 MHz
Each Arduino uses:
1 RF transceiver (or other communication module)
The arduinos will be untethered and thus can be simply laid out on a table, or attached to an implementation project.
Data Collection and Analysis: In order to gain swarm data from the system, a “sponge” module will be constructed to listen for any pulses and output them to a serial monitor. By pulling data from multiple fireflies in the swarm we will be able to achieve an improved understanding of the state of synchronization of the swarm. This data will then be plotted to observe the spread and trends of the data, as well as perform statistical analyses, and thus see how tightly the swarm can synchronize.
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