I am trying to build a device that will allow me to control at least a couple hundred raising platforms. The goal of this is to create a real time editor for board games (Dungeons and Dragons).


  • All the platforms would move simultaneously
  • The platforms would be transparent to allow us to place LEDs inside them to color the platform so we can make colors like blue for water and brown for dirt.

In our current setup, we use some acrylic prisms that are 1 inch x 1 inch x 6 inch (width, length, height). We wanted to use a CNC motor like system to move something around and move a platform. Obviously, this can only raise/lower one item at a time. We calculated (on paper) quite a long update time (calculated approximately 1 sec per platform) to raise/lower a platform. A CNC linear drive type system is the only solution we found that had a reasonable cost/quality (a CNC motor for every platform also raised the power consumption very high). After a few weeks of looking around, planning and throwing stupid ideas away, we found this.

Clearly, it's way better then our idea but I have no idea how they did this. They have 900 platforms and they all work simultaneously. We also don't need real time interaction. Loading from computer and staying static until we change it is good (though water movement would be really nice).

What would you guys recommend to raise simultaneously a thousand small platforms?

After looking at this document that the devs made, and doing a bit more research I found that the device they used to move the platforms cost approxomently $30; I don't think I need to say this, but I don't have $27,000.

Key difference between their implementation and our goal:

  • No real-time interaction with the table. Controlled by an Arduino is fine.
  • Size of the platforms will be closer to 1 inch^2
  • All sides of the platform should be light up, but I believe this is mostly a question of choosing the right material
  • What do you plan to use to control the setup?
    – asheeshr
    Mar 12, 2014 at 15:29
  • If possible an arduino as maybe we would want water to be consistently moving. If not a desktop is also a possibility (thx for the edit :)
    – user591
    Mar 12, 2014 at 15:34
  • It would be great if you could find a proper image (not the gif that you have linked) to allow others to visualize what it is you are talking about. It took me a long time to even understand what you were describing :)
    – asheeshr
    Mar 12, 2014 at 15:37
  • I found the video MIT made
    – user591
    Mar 12, 2014 at 16:17
  • Are you sure the pricing is right?
    – TheDoctor
    Mar 12, 2014 at 21:44

1 Answer 1


In terms of cost, perhaps it would be best to build a 4x4 prototype.

My first thought was to use inexpensive servos with a flexible rod inside a sheath, perhaps a wire, like a bicycle brake/gear. The amount of movement could then be governed by the size of the armature on an inexpensive servo.

Servos will position themselves after being given the command, so there's no need to wait and do them one-by-one. Fire off the command, then use some sort of multiplexed output like multiple 74HC595 shift registers to connect to the next one.

If the tiles were spring loaded, such that they returned to the topmost position by themselves, only a simple pull-string is needed to adjust the tile height. Even a very light filament (like fishing line) would be strong enough for the pull. This would allow the servos to be positioned even some metres away from the table.

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