Four Letter Words


Check out this awesome project from SparkFun customer Rob Seward. This is a pretty amazing combination of robotics and electrical engineering to create a project that can really be most accurately described as art.


A side view of "Four Letter Words" reveals some cool mechanical bits.

Rob's project, "Four Letter Words," consists of four units, each capable of displaying all 26 letters of the alphabet by arranging fluorescent lights in the right shape. The device is running on SparkFun's Arduino Pro. The words that are displayed are based on a word association database developed over a period of 22 years by the University of South Florida. Check out the video below to see Rob's project in action - awesome work!


Comments 23 comments

  • Two thoughts:
    1. The music and presentation really make this seem a lot more important or amazing than it really is. Not to diminish the hard work, really this is a praise for whoever came up with the presentation style itself as it really makes an otherwise marginally interesting thing seem like it is something more.
    2. It took 22 years to develop an algorithm to display four letter words? As a CS major I really hope that I am missing something here, because that is beyond laughable.

    • Sorry, my wording was incorrect. The thing that took 22 years is actually a word association database. The algorithm simply uses that database to choose what word is displayed.

  • It may “just” be art. But that art could convince an employer to hire you into an industrial automation job!

  • Wow :0 That was amazingly beautiful even if it is useless. I can image the programming put into this, but preliminary sketch ups were probably extraordinarily difficult. Congrats!

  • My kudos to Rob Seward. The transitions were very smooth and precise. By the way, those were some interesting word choices for the demonstration :)

  • Why is it a waste of time? Masturbation is a waste of time. This guy deserves a handjob and I’m buying! I would just hope that his mechanical fabrication skills will someday match his obvious enthusiasm for his work. For all that poo-poo this one, I say: “let’s see you do it”. I know, you don’t want to because it’s a waste of time. Ending up at Microsoft’s a waste of time, this guy’s going to wind up making an occasional large check someday and have the opportunity to realize that any E.E. at some established corporation is the real loser and knowing that is worth plenty… enough to be able to die with a smile on ones face. And that’s the point.

  • Very nice, obviously the man knows his stuff.
    However when I see things like this all I can think of is; What a waste of talent, time, and money.
    I agree, it is a beautiful piece of art, I just hope this was a “spare time” project and not a life long ambition.
    I also envy these guys because I would love to thave that kind of spare time and cash.

  • Can’t you people appreciate it even as art? Not every project has to be “practical” to be worthwhile. Sheesh.
    I’m a mechanical engineer and I’m standing up for a piece of art… Maybe I’m more impressed due to the complexity of the mechanism and control system. Plus, I’m sure he learned an amazing amount while building this device which will serve him well when he goes on to do more practical (if less interesting) projects.
    Good job, Rob!

  • It’s steampunk, without the steam…
    Good on you Rob!

  • “However when I see things like this all I can think of is; What a waste of talent, time, and money."
    I wonder what you think of when you look at a painting, or a sculpture, or listen to music, or read fiction.

  • Beautiful. With what kind of camera was this filmed?

  • I’m been a hardware and software engineer for 36 years. Whatever I’m doing I look at as creation, creation that is satisfying for me in and of itself. Congratulations to Rob for satisfying his creative urge!
    Oh and yes, while I’m having fun I’m also being paid quite well for it.

  • “Masturbation is a waste of time”. Biologically, it probably isn’t. But I digress.
    Making something cool to look at isn’t a waste of time either. If I was paying the guy to make me a machine to put toothpaste into tubes, and he did this instead, I’d be pissed, sure. But on his time, for his reasons, I think this rocks. I like the way it moves, the way it forms letters in something less obvious than existing formats, and so on. I work plenty. Playing is good, too.

  • Amazing!. so beautiful and interesting.
    ingenuity is about creativity, not technicality.
    so you all square tech heads, DONT DISS THIS NICE spark ROLF

  • Awesome! I would love to see some kind of two player interactive word game made out of this.
    When the video cuts to the side view of the device in action the bass line of this song pops into my head http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNYKxiRJ2LA

  • Should have been in Metropolis. Of course then there would have to have been special characters for the German.

  • Beautiful!

  • Super nice job on the build, but add it to the ever growing “useless machine” list. You said it best describing it as art since in does no work.


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