Muninn and Huginn

Arduino makers project - Muninn and Huginn


Muninn and Huginn (from the names of the two ravens that fly all over the world and bring information to the god Odin), are two correlated products made to write in an invented language, inspired by Vegvisir - an Icelandic magical stave. Icelandic staves are Rune-like symbols credited with magic. They’re preserved in Icelandic books of Witchcraft and Sorcery, called Grimoires. Minion and Huginn form together an interactive installation, using physical computing and information technologies to create printed messages that can be kept for oneself or sent.

It's a personal Communication Design Bachelor project, an evolution of a branding group project at Politecnico di Milano in Italy.


What have you made?

Muninn is an Arduino-driven thermal printer that translates the letters typed on the keyboard into printed magical spells in real time, working as if it were a new mysterious typewriter. It works in cooperation with a Processing program that runs on the computer and shows the result on its screen while it's being printed by Muninn on thermal receipt paper.

What gave you the initial inspiration?

Muninn and Huginn is is the evolution of a group project, the generative branding of a fictitious self-proclaimed nation, based on the hacker manifesto, in the south of Iceland.

The alphabet used by the printer is bond to the graphic identity of the nation, and it's inspired by an ancient Icelandic magical stave: the Vegvisir. It aims focus people’s attention on the power of digital graphic languages.

What is the original idea behind this project?

The whole idea is to change the role that digital experiences have in our lives, bringing it into the real tangible world by a new printing method - real-time thermal printing - that is both pretty fun to watch in action and also accessible (it requires no ink and just a small amount of paper). This installation brings to life the digital, 2D item you create on the screen, so that you can actually keep it or give it away.

How does it work?

First of all you need to plug the printer into your laptop's usb and you launch Huginn, the Processing software.

When you type something on the keyboard, Huginn shows you the corresponding magical Vegvisir letter. You can use every European alphabet letter and the space-bar. The alphabet has no capital letters nor punctuation.

While you type, Huginn sends the information about the letters you're typing to the Arduino brain of the printer Muninn (for ex. "a", "m", "i"…), through the serial port.
The Arduino Mega shield reads the letter sent from the software, and sends the corresponding letter (that's a .png image) to the thermal printer inside Muninn, which prints all of the letters in a row.

How long did it take to make it real?

I developed the whole project during my Erasmus semester, so it took me around 5 months - taking it slowly. While the Arduino sketch is pretty simple, most of the time was used to learn to write Processing language and arguing with .png files management.

How did you build it?

I bought an Adafruit thermal printer, made to work together with microprocessors. I plugged it into an Arduino Mega shield (I chose it because of my memory needs) and wrote the printer part first. I had to translate every rune into a single .png file ready to be processed for thermal printing, and only after that I wrote the Arduino sketch. The third step was to design the Processing software so that it would work with any computer keyboard and interface with the printer. Once everything was working perfectly, I designed and assembled the simple puzzle-like laser-cut wooden box, and placed both the thermal printer and the Arduino shield inside.