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Experiments with Conway’s Game of Life

This experiment is motivated by a discussion I had with Dr. Claus Rinner about introducing students to GIS concepts using Conway’s Game of Life. Conway’s Game of Life is a popular example to demonstrate cellular automata. Based on an input grid of “alive” and “dead” cells, new cell values are computed on each iteration based on four simple rules for the cell and its 8 neighbors:

  1. Any live cell with fewer than two live neighbours dies, as if caused by under-population.
  2. Any live cell with two or three live neighbours lives on to the next generation.
  3. Any live cell with more than three live neighbours dies, as if by overcrowding.
  4. Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbours becomes a live cell, as if by reproduction.

(Source: Wikipedia – Conway’s Game of Life)

Based on these simple rules, effects like the following “glider gun” can be achieved:

Gospers glider gun.gif
Gospers glider gun” by KieffOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

There are some Game of Life implementations for GIS out there, e.g. scripts for ArcGIS or a module for SAGA. Both of these examples are raster-based. Since I couldn’t find any examples of raster manipulation like this in pyQGIS, I decided to instead implement a vector version: a Processing script which receives an input grid of cells and outputs the next iteration based on the rules of Game of Life. In the following screencast, you can see the Processing script being called repeatedly by a script from the Python console:

So far, it’s a quick and dirty first implementation. To make it more smooth, I’m considering adding spatial indexing and using memory layers instead of having Processing create a bunch of Shapefiles.

It would also be interesting to see a raster version done in PyQGIS. Please leave a comment if you have any ideas how this could be achieved.

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4 comments
  1. Anita, this is great. I would like to include this in a lab assignment that tells students about cellular automata, neighbourhood definitions, and GIS programming. In addition, I would also be really interested in a raster-based version. This would add knowledge of focal raster operations to the learning objectives. It would require a focal sum function or direct access to raster cells (iterating through a grid layer), both of which I have not found yet in QGIS? Curious to see whether other commenters can help. Cheers, Claus

  2. Great!. I would be really interested in a raster-based version, to make wildfire simulations.

    • Thanks a lot for letting me know!

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