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Random Access Memory – Materialising mathematical process (algorithm)

Created by Berlin based Ralf Baecker, Random Access Memory is a fully functional digital memory. Instead of operating on semi-conducting components to represent either the binary states of 0 (zero) or 1 (one), the memory uses grains of sand as storage material. In addition, the machine performs a computational process on this memory.

Random Access Memory reflects on the interaction of idea and matter and their encounter in contemporary information technology. The use of sand as a medium refers to an old divination technique, called geomancy, originated from the arabic ‛ilm al-raml which translates as “science of the sand” and defines a set of rules, to recursively manipulate figures of geological material (eg. stones or sand) to be interpreted by the geomancer.


↑ Processing is used to read, place or remove sand on a rotating disc by a three axis pick and place mechanism combined with a microscope camera to track the position.

Sand grains can be read, placed or removed on a rotating disc by a three axis pick and place mechanism combined with a microscope camera to track the position of a single sand grain. This memory mechanism is prone to errors thru misreadings, bouncing grains and other imponderabilities. The algorithm, executed on the sand grains, is a so called Turmite, a two dimensional operating Turing Machine. It’s only goal it is to write as many 1’s (stones) as possible in the memory and to avoid a termination, following a strict rule. This process emerges complex and repetitive pattern on the disc. Finally, R A M investigates the contrast of a “pure” mathematical process (algorithm) and it’s “impure” material implementation into the world.

The software is realised in Processing. It is using a microscope camera to track a stone in order to align the pick and place mechanism exactly above the grain. The hardware uses a teensy board to control the ventile and the three stepper motors for each axis. It is a polar coordinate system. There is no X or Y axis but radius and angle. Another Z-axis move the pick and place head up and down.

Project PageRalf Baecker