Touchable Ideas: From an Algorithm to a Collectible Sculpture

How do we map from a concept to reality? This is a problem that has been speculated on since at least Plato.

Is something real only if it’s physical, tangible, touchable?
Does being physical make something more real?

With Ethentic we are merging the ethereal and the real by writing algorithms that birth physical items.

All of our collections are 3D-printable, and the algorithms and parameters needed to create them are stored entirely on-chain. This means that data loss is not possible, as long as Ethereum still exists. Being a decentralized network with incentivized participation and no downtime, we believe this makes it a great candidate for long-term storage of such algorithms.

Nature to Algorithm

Many natural phenomena and processes create order out of what are ultimately chaotic collisions of particles.
Take for example the matching of an entity to its environment through Darwinian Evolution. Or take the multitude of biochemical signalling pathways inside the human body.

It is apparent that, given some conditions, some telos toward order exists in nature.

Humans have observed this tendency, and have designed algorithms inspired by these natural processes.
Corresponding to the examples above, scientists have implemented evolutionary algorithms that optimize, and gossip algorithms to model networks.

Closing the Loop: Algorithms, Inspired by Reality, Producing Reality

With Ethentic we seek to close the loop offered to us by nature and the field of computer science.

We observe nature’s physical processes, encode them into an algorithm that is stored immutably in the ethereal realm, and instantiate it back to the physical with 3D-printed sculptures.

Our first collection, The Causeways, takes inspiration from the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. Here, basalt columns of roughly hexagonal shape barricade a shoreline.

The Giant’s Causeway: Inspiration for the Causeways algorithm

Something like Centroidal Voronoi Tesselation tends to mimic this behaviour, so this type of algorithm is what we chose to implement.

We chose to write the Causeways algorithm in OpenSCAD, since it is a relatively compact way of expressing ideas about three dimensional geometry, which lends itself better to expensive storage on Ethereum than something more verbose.
We also wrote a minifier program for OpenSCAD that anyone can use (just ask us where to find the code!), so that helped as well.

Ultimately, the Causeways algorithm interprets parameters passed to it which determine the shape, color, height, bluntness and density of the columns, and outputs a 3D model that is totally unique and 3D-printable. Everything required to do this is stored on the blockchain, so it’s not going to disappear.

In detail, a number of cells are generated using an existing tessellation process. Those cells map across the base of the model, and are extruded upward according to the input parameters. For example, in the image below on the left we have a Cross shape, which means that only cells in the middle “X” shape will be extruded. This model’s Tallness trait is set to “Mid”, which means the aforementioned cells are extruded to a medium height.

In the right image we have a Cove shape. Those “spikier” looking columns are due to the bluntness trait being set to “Min”.

Causeway models demonstrating traits: Cross shape with Mid tallness (left), Cove shape with Min tallness and Min bluntness (right)

The Causeways algorithm also creates a circular cavity inside the base of each model. Not going to say much about what goes inside there in this article, but it would fit a programmable chip perfectly 😉. Maybe mint one and see what it does when you get your free physical copy in the mail…

Your Ethentic Causeway comes with a few extras as well, including a beautiful blender render and the physical 3D-printed sculpture. The details on these will be covered in separate articles, so check those out as well, and check out our About page for more information as well.

Finally, we want to acknowledge the great DotSCAD library, which had helper code written that sped up development of our algorithm considerably.

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Ethentic

Ethentic

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Platform empowering generative CodeCAD artists with 3D printable digital collectibles. https://ethentic.art