The Information Train

  • Diomidis Spinellis


The increased application of software-controlled digital electronics hinders the understanding of how things work. The information train is a scientific experiment exhibit that physically demonstrates how computers communicate. It comprises a network in which a model Lego train acts as a physical carrier transferring a picture’s pixels from one computer to the other. The sending end computer scans a simple picture, and directs a model train to send that pixel to the receiving end computer. This is done by sensing the approaching train and switching a rail junction depending on whether a pixel is on or off. The train carries on its top a piece that rotates depending on the train’s route, thus carrying the data between the two computers. At the receiving end, two sensors detect the shape’s orientation allowing the receiving-end computer to reassemble the picture bit-by-bit, pixel-by-pixel. The receiving-end computer is a One Laptop per Child (OLPC) XO-1 machine, programmed using Etoys. This provides further opportunities for motivated adventurous children to interact with the experiment’s implementation.


Device Driver Digital Converter Analog Draw Function Sender Side State Machine Diagram 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. B. J. Allen-Conn and Kim Rose. Powerful Ideas in the Classroom Using Squeak to Enhance Math and Science Learning. Viewpoints Research Institute, 2003.Google Scholar
  2. Claude E. Shannon. A Mathematical Theory of Communication. Bell System Technical Journal, 27, pages 379–423 and 623–656, July and October, 1948.Google Scholar
  3. Dave Thomas and Andy Hunt. State Machines. IEEE Software 19(6): 10–12. November/December 2002.Google Scholar
  4. Diomidis Spinellis. The Antikythera mechanism: A computer science perspective. IEEE Computer, 41(5):22–27, May 2008. (doi:10.1109/MC.2008.166)Google Scholar
  5. Fairchild Semiconductor. LM339/LM339A, LM239A, LM2901: Quad Comparator. Revision 1.0.5, 2012. Available online
  6. B. Freudenberg, Y. Ohshima, and S. Wallace. Etoys for One Laptop Per Child. In C5 ’09: The Seventh International Conference on Creating, Connecting and Collaborating through Computing, pages 57–64, 2009. (doi:10.1109/C5.2009.9)Google Scholar
  7. M. Gaelli, O. Nierstrasz, and S. Stinckwich. Idioms for composing games with EToys. In C5 ’06: The Fourth International Conference on Creating, Connecting and Collaborating through Computing, pages 222–231, 2006. (doi:10.1109/C5.2006.20)Google Scholar
  8. Dan Ingalls, Ted Kaehler, John Maloney, Scott Wallace, and Alan Kay. Back to the future: the story of Squeak, a practical Smalltalk written in itself. In OOPSLA ’97: Proceedings of the 12th ACM SIGPLAN Conference on Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages, and Applications, pages 318–326, New York, NY, USA, 1997. ACM Press. (doi:10.1145/263698.263754)Google Scholar
  9. Alan Kay. Our Human Condition “From Space”. In (Allen-Conn and Rose, 2003) pp. 73–79.Google Scholar
  10. Newton Lee. Interview with Nicholas Negroponte. Computers in Entertainment, 4(1):3, 2006. (doi:10.1145/1111293.1111298)Google Scholar
  11. Casey Read and Ben Fry. Processing: A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2007.Google Scholar
  12. Texas Instruments. ULN2002A, ULN2003A, ULN2003AI, ULN2004A, ULQ2003A, ULQ2004A: High-voltage high-current Darlington transistor arrays. December 1976, revised March 2012. Available online
  13. Vishay Intertechnology. CNY70: Reflective Optical Sensor with Transistor Output. Document number 83751. Revision 1.8, July 2012. Available online

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Management Science and TechnologyAthens University of Economics and BusinessAthensGreece

Personalised recommendations