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Displays Technology

Turning SF's Bay Bridge Into a Giant LED Display 99

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-as-cool-as-a-LED-zeppelin dept.
waderoush writes "It may be the biggest art hack ever: a project to install 25,000 individually addressable LED lights on the western span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. New York-based 'light sculptor' Leo Villareal was in San Francisco last week to test the vast 'Bay Lights' art installation, which will officially debut on March 5 and last for two years; Xconomy has photos and video of Villareal running the light show from his laptop. To optimize his algorithms and figure out which patterns would be most interesting or arresting, Villareal needed to experiment on the bridge itself, says Bay Lights director Ben Davis, who has raised $5.8 million for the project so far. 'This has never been done before in history — literally debugging software 500 feet in the air, in front of a million people,' says Davis."
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Turning SF's Bay Bridge Into a Giant LED Display

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  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @01:27AM (#42734969)

    Lets stop the overuse and abuse of legitimate technical terms already. It's like calling him a "hacker" - oh wait, TFA and TFEditor already did. I guess it makes sense the the "director" is the one using the term - since he's the farthest from the actual work, you'd expect him to be the most out of touch.

    Woz and Linus are hackers, and debuggers... and some would argue artists. This guy is perhaps an artist, but no hacker.

    • "debug" has been used since Edison days at least, over a hundred years ago. It means get the bugs out. It applies to far more than just debugging programs.

      This post is part of the process of debugging your post.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Not exactly...the term "bug" has its origins that far back, but "debug" wasn't used until the mid 1940s (only shortly before the famous literal de-bugging of the Mark II).

        • I appreciate arts.

          I appreciate arts that are meaningful.

          Good music. Nice paintings. Beautiful sculptures.

          Those are arts.

          On the other hand, there are a lot of "arts" that I have serious doubt. Such as this "art hack".

          Just because this thing uses 25,000 individually addressable LED lights, doesn't make it "artsy".

          Just because the thing runs from the person's laptop doesn't make it "art", either.

          What is there to stop this from turning into a pissing contests ?

          Someone-else gonna come up with yet-another-project

          • by hondo77 (324058)
            You forgot to tell the kids to get off your lawn.
          • by Lashat (1041424)

            This guy is getting/has been paid for his effort to play with computerized light sequencing using the Bay Bridge to hold the lamps.

            Don't lose the coolness factor just because the term "art hack" has raised your hackles. Sure the artist is not using assembly programming to make robot arm peel a banana faster. At least the hacker term is being used as a positive descriptor/moniker. I loathe to think of all the discussions 10-12 years ago when the /. discussion was that we would never educate the general pu

        • by SternisheFan (2529412) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @06:24AM (#42735991)
          Origin of the term 'debug', from wikipedia:

          There is some controversy over the origin of the term "debugging".

          The terms "bug" and "debugging" are both popularly attributed to Admiral Grace Hopper in the 1940s.[1] While she was working on a Mark II Computer at Harvard University, her associates discovered a moth stuck in a relay and thereby impeding operation, whereupon she remarked that they were "debugging" the system. However the term "bug" in the meaning of technical error dates back at least to 1878 and Thomas Edison (see software bug for a full discussion), and "debugging" seems to have been used as a term in aeronautics before entering the world of computers. Indeed, in an interview Grace Hopper remarked that she was not coining the term. The moth fit the already existing terminology, so it was saved.

          The Oxford English Dictionary entry for "debug" quotes the term "debugging" used in reference to airplane engine testing in a 1945 article in the Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society; Hopper's bug was found on September 9, 1947. The term was not adopted by computer programmers until the early 1950s. The seminal article by Gill [2] in 1951 is the earliest in-depth discussion of programming errors, but it does not use the term "bug" or "debugging". In the ACM's digital library, the term "debugging" is first used in three papers from 1952 ACM National Meetings.[3][4][5] Two of the three use the term in quotation marks. By 1963, "debugging" was a common enough term to be mentioned in passing without explanation on page 1 of the CTSS manual.[6] Kidwell's article Stalking the Elusive Computer Bug[7] discusses the etymology of "bug" and "debug" in greater detail..

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debugging#Origin [wikipedia.org]

          • Use of the term "bug" to describe inexplicable defects has been a part of engineering jargon for many decades and predates computers and computer software; it may have originally been used in hardware engineering to describe mechanical malfunctions. For instance, Thomas Edison wrote the following words in a letter to an associate in 1878:

            'It has been just so in all of my inventions. The first step is an intuition, and comes with a burst, then difficulties arise — this thing gives out and [it is] the

      • And I can think of a trivial, low-cost, low-risk way to find nice looking patterns for these bulbs.

        Take a nice wide picture of the bridge.
        Create an app that turns individual pixels on the image (or a small area) on & off.
        Code algorithms/patterns to your hearts content.

        View in a dark room on a large screen for best results.

    • by Khyber (864651)

      You don't know shit about the definition of Hacker. I suggest you read Stephen Levy's 'Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution' and learn that a real hacker could so something as simple as making one switch control two rail road crossings (which is where the term came from, model railroad system building.)

      And with a UID that low, we expect better of you.

  • debugging (Score:5, Funny)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @01:29AM (#42734973)

    Debugging isn't really interesting just because you do it in the air. A lot of people do that on longer flights and call that "Tuesday". On the other hand, the endless potentials for hacking this thing to display something obscene are going to be nearly irresistable to a certain kind of person. You know the type I'm talking about. (dramatic pause)

    Yes, you.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Debugging isn't really interesting just because you do it in the air. A lot of people do that on longer flights and call that "Tuesday". On the other hand, the endless potentials for hacking this thing to display something obscene are going to be nearly irresistable to a certain kind of person. You know the type I'm talking about. (dramatic pause)

      Yes, you.

      One word: goatse.

  • by thenextstevejobs (1586847) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @01:33AM (#42734989)

    Literally never done before? This person perhaps isn't familiar with other computerized enterprises that have been witnessed by millions of people. Space shuttle launches? How about massive light shows for concerts?

    Get over yourself.

    That aside, I hope it's a good show, and gets more folks interested in art and technology and keeps money flowing into those kind of works.

    • Yeah, that sentence turned me off a bit. It's a very cool project to be sure, but the "this has never been done before in history"--besides being redundant--is just a little too much.

  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @01:42AM (#42735015) Homepage

    If you get a chance could you let us know how this looks from space?

  • by MindPrison (864299) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @02:05AM (#42735085) Journal
    [quote] It may be the biggest art hack ever: a project to install 25,000 individually addressable LED lights [/quote]

    Uhm, have you ever seen peoples Christmas led projects? Google it, check it on youtube. There are literally roofs made as video screens with millions of leds all over the house, all individually addressable.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Waste of money, increase of light pollution, and a distraction to drivers. At least the money is from donations and not from the city's budget. As for testing, it definitely can be done through a simulator. It may not be cost effective but it's easily possible, including the light's reflections off the water.

    • by Mr. Frilly (6570)

      As somebody who presently lives 3 blocks from this, let me tell you, this "art" project is TACKY. It would work in Las Vegas, but the Bay Bridge is too dignified for this sort of crap. Can't wait for it to be removed.

      • by doom (14564)
        Thank you! With all the "but is it a hack?" discussion, I've been wondering what happened to "but is it art?"

        So, how do you feel about "Cupid's Bow"

    • by nukenerd (172703)

      ...As for testing, it definitely can be done through a simulator. It may not be cost effective but it's easily possible,

      Several posters here do not seem to understand the debugging that would would be needed here. Up to a point debugging can be done off line but there comes a point when the bridge lights themselves are being controlled. You then need to establish the relationship between the software address of each light and its position on the bridge. If you think that the workmen, given a box of LEDs, are going to position each one in the position required by a number, you do not know workmen.

      You might get it rough

      • by unixisc (2429386)
        They could control it from Wi-Fi, and use IPv6 to address them. That will allow them to theoretically control 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 LEDs from one access point. Of course, since no such APs exist, they'll simply have to get an appropriate number of APs and scatter them around the bridge, and give each of them separate IPv6 link addresses. Once they have that, they can have full remote control over all the lighting. Of course, if either the Access Points or the LEDs get damaged, then they would need
  • What steps does someone need to take to be able to install lights on the Bay Bridge and control them? I can make pretty patterns in light too, and it would be a lot of fun. What did he do to be able to do that? Because I want to control it.
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      you need 1. permission 2. a lot of cash.

      once you got those, it's not a problem. you use the cash to pay for the installers and to buy the lights(no need to re-invent anything to get it done).

    • by cheros (223479)

      Because I want to control it.

      Given that the guy is using WiFi, you may have a fight with others for that :)

  • "which patterns would be most interesting or arresting"

    Huh? Obviously the natural use of this is for advertising--and the advertising agencies know how to make interesting or arresting ads.

  • by Zeio (325157) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @02:51AM (#42735241)

    The cost of living here is outrageous. The city, county and state are bankrupt. THe middle class is shrinking, schools stink, and the situation is dire.

    Let's get Effie Trinket to drape lights all over the bridges and say oo and aaaah.

    Unreal.

    • by Skynyrd (25155)

      The cost of living here is outrageous. The city, county and state are bankrupt. THe middle class is shrinking, schools stink, and the situation is dire.

      Let's get Effie Trinket to drape lights all over the bridges and say oo and aaaah.

      Unreal.

      If there was any public money going into this project, I'd be pissed off. However, they have raised millions and are paying CalTrans workers to hang the lights. That's right, they are paying for the installation, not my taxes.

      • by tehcyder (746570)
        A waste of money is a waste of money whether it's your taxes, a bunch of gullible fools or an individual weird billionaire paying for it.
        • Define waste of money. What you might consider a waste, others might consider art. As in this case.

          You might say spending millions every year to feed hungry people in Africa is a worthwhile endeavor while others say it's a waste because we've been doing it for decades and nothing ever changes. Why don't we use that money to move them where the food is? (thx Sam Kinison).

          Unless you're saying people should be told what to do with their money rather than spend it as they wish simply because you think how they

          • by unixisc (2429386)
            Very simply speaking, art is a waste of money... and time
            • Then I guess video games are a waste of time and money as there is a hell of a lot of art in them.

              So would be any pictures in any book as they're art.

              Then of course there are the thousands of museums housing pieces of art from over the centuries from such wastes of time as Michelangelo, Cezanne and Gauguin.

              Yeah, art is such a waste. I guess four bare walls painted grey is what the world should have instead.

            • by yusing (216625)

              That's definitely simply spoken. Simplisticly, even. Bordering on redneck.

              Art is never needed more than when the culture around it is blithely refusing to have a long look in the mirror. Reinforcing geek stereotypes, on the other hand, is uncalled for.

        • by rmelton (165795)

          Don't worry. The money isn't gone. It just moved from one pocket to another. Maybe the the people who have it now will spend it on something you like!

        • by hondo77 (324058)

          Your post was a waste of time. Doesn't matter that it was your time, it was still a waste of time. So says I.

          Get it?

        • by Skynyrd (25155)

          Until you are the world's dictator, you have no direct power over how people spend their time and money. I think most TV is a waste of time and money,. as well as most movies, music, websites, organized religion, etc. The list is endless. However, it simply doesn't matter. I do not have enough money and power to change society, so I ignore blockbuster crap movies. I support the art I like (which you probably think is a waste of time and money).

          It's called tolerance. We live on a crowded planet, and hearing

    • Well think of it as another way of saying Look! Over there! It's Lindsey Lohan!

  • Stunningly beautiful. It would be even cooler synced to some fast classical music. Why are they taking it down in two years? Won't the LEDs last longer?
    • by djlemma (1053860)
      When you're talking about 25,000 LED's, outdoors, in a warm climate, surrounded by salty air, you're bound to lose a lot of them over the course of 2 years. Much longer than that, it would turn into a bit of a maintenance nightmare.
  • If you live in the area, you must see this! I was driving on the bridge one night and didn't realize they were testing, it almost made me regret moving off of Treasure Island.
  • literally debugging software 500 feet in the air, in front of a million people,' says Davis.

    Wow, when you put it like that it sounds really fucking boring.

    • I'll one up him next week and "literally debug software from 36000 feet in the air" when I fly to Minneapolis. I won't be doing it in front of a million people, but neither was this guy.

      Talk about making a mountain out of a mole hill.

  • by nukenerd (172703) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @06:11AM (#42735949)
    "Art" --> "Advertising"

    I find it sad that an icon of international repute (I am in the UK) is to be used as a billboard, of even for someone's art. Such bridges are already art in themselves. It is like using an Old Master as a base for some aerosol art.
  • Lights on a bridge (Score:5, Informative)

    by tehcyder (746570) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @06:15AM (#42735965) Journal
    If that's great art, the Christmas lights at my local pub were a fucking timeless masterpiece.
  • by water-and-sewer (612923) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @07:43AM (#42736243) Homepage

    I dunno.

    a) This isn't really 'hacking.' I find some of the stuff they do o HackaDay way more interesting than this. There, they're combining existing tools and systems in ways never before envisioned. There's real creativity there. This guy is basically doing something that's been done a lot already (every Xmas, in some towns) but on a much larger scale. Boring!

    b) As an engineer, if you're debugging in front of millions of people, you F'ed up! You design your system, prototype it, test it, scale it, then build it. If you're debugging on "go day," you are a colossal failure.

    c) How the hell did people decide to chip in millions of dollars for this stunt? Sure, it will look cool. But aren't there more interesting/clever uses for that kind of funding? Oh well, that's America.

    Finally, I'm thinking this would be WAY more interesting if someone truly cracks into the guy's software, and on "go day," instead of the image of flags waving in the breeze, the image projected is something unspeakably horrifying.

    • by hondo77 (324058)

      b) As an engineer, if you're debugging in front of millions of people, you F'ed up! You design your system, prototype it, test it, scale it, then build it. If you're debugging on "go day," you are a colossal failure.

      Yes because when you launch something, real-world usage always goes the way you've predicted.

      Have you actually worked on projects that have been released?

  • by Peter Simpson (112887) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @08:06AM (#42736315)
    When I visited Taipei for the first time, I was amazed at the number of LED-lighted buildings and structures. It seemed like every building and bridge was lit by colored LEDs, many in continuously changing patterns. Once I thought about it a bit, it was obvious, that the home of the LED should be decorated with LEDs. Silicon Valley deserves something like this. If it's done well, it can be a signature piece for the area. I hope it succeeds.
  • eCue [ecue.com] does this stuff already and has been used one plenty of large LED installations. This one [ecue.com] involved 20,000 channels, for instance. Not that I really have a problem with using custom software, but I get a little curious why it's being done when there are readily available options that are also relatively inexpensive.

    And no, I don't work for eCue, but I use their products. There's several other well established control options for this sort of thing as well, I'm just talking about what I know.
  • Well, that's pretty much the standard for heavy-thinking in the art world these days. "What should we do with the Bay Bridge?"; "Let's cover it with a giant TV screen!"

    I've seen stupider pieces of art-- like this cutsey bow and arrow [sfanswers.com] over by the same bridge-- but this one does not, shall we say, grab me.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...there's a lot of hyperbole in that article. While 25,000 LEDs is larger than your standard Christmas light display, this is hardly an unheard-of scale install. A couple points:

    - These appear to be single-color LED 'pixels', so its safe to assume that each 'pixel' is one control channel. The standard entertainment control protocol allows 512 control channels per 'universe', meaning the entire install is just under 50 universes. That's going to be larger than your standard theatrical show (some shows b

    • by djlemma (1053860)
      Your response is essentially the same as mine- why didn't they just use the existing products that are designed for exactly this sort of thing? I used the example of eCue, but there's plenty more I could rattle off the top of my head that could handle 25,000 channels. I did however look at this "Light Sculptor's" web page, and it seems that he's been using this custom software for installations for a while now, so I suppose it's probably the most comfortable thing for him. Designers (or lighting directors,
    • Author of TFA here. Perhaps "debugging" was a dangerous word to use (clearly it has set off a lot of Slashdot readers). What Villareal is doing, mostly, is comparing the patterns and algorithms he developed on his simulator with the actual look of these patterns on the bridge, and tuning for what looks best. That was the part that couldn't be done until the lights were installed.
  • This has never been done before in history -- literally debugging software 500 feet in the air, in front of a million people,

    Why not? Boeing is trying it with their 787.

  • I am a light artist here in Portland, Oregon who makes wearable light art.

    If you are interested, I am planning to try to go to the OMSI After Dark event here in Portland tonight (Wednesday, January 30), wearing one of my pieces of light art jewelry.

    If you can't make it there, I do have a sample of my kind of light art on www.allyn.com

    I do go to the Portland Dorkbot meetings at BackSpace wearing my lighted art as well.

  • Forget all the arguments about whether the art installation is a hack. The real hack is when someone else gets hold of the lights and make them spell out something like "Turk 182"

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