November 11, 2019

A secret device used in WWII to encrypt and decrypt war messages, the Enigma Machine has a storied history.

Olin students from the Principles of Engineering course recently had the idea to reach into that past and provide a fresh take on a historic machine: providing an interactive exploration of the encryption powers of the world-famous device. Inspired by the original machine, their design was to elucidate the power of the encryption process. 

Broken into 4 two-week long sprints, the team took their Enigma visualization from an idea into an interactive experience. 

A sketch of engineering formulas on a white notepad in different color pens.

The student team's Enigma Sketch.

The system they ended up building has a variety of electrical, mechanical, and software components that all must interact flawlessly in order to accurately produce the intended visualization.


In order to create the full electrical system, the team went from the seemingly simple idea of utilizing electroluminescent wire to display the encryption process to designing multiple PCBs and spending countless hours troubleshooting issues with the electrical contacts and constructing the whole electrical system.


To provide a similar feel to the original Enigma machine, the mechanical subsystem worked to preserve many aspects of the original machine. In order to ensure consistency and allow for integration with the rest of the system, the team provided its own takes on many aspects of the machine.


Though the original machine obviously contained no software component, the team found it important to bring the machine into the 21st century with software. Though the software component remained minimal, it allowed seemingly isolated elements of our system to interact with one another.

Five college students stand shoulder-to-shoulder for a photo.

Olin students pictured (L to R) Corey, Libby, Shyheim, Bryce, Daniel.

The team sought to create their own interpretation of the original Enigma's mechanical system in a way that would interface seamlessly with the electrical challenges of creating their visualization. What do you think? 

View an overview of their mechanical system here...