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1000 Fireflies: The Kuramoto Model

This weekend during the Northern Spark 2012 festival in Minneapolis, a group of 1000 bicyclists will attach synchronizing bike lights and ride through the city at night.

The Kuramoto Model (1000 Fireflies) will distribute 1000 interactive blinking LED devices to bicyclists who will attend Northern Spark 2012. The devices are outfitted with microcontrollers and radio units that allow them to mutually and observably synchronize with others, as do certain species of firefly. These devices, in isolation, look similar to conventional LED cycling safety lights, but in groups exhibit an immediately noticeable phenomenon. To maximize the visual impact for all festival attendees, organizers will encourage participating cyclists to gather together in a large group to tour the various festival sites.

This project owes much to the research of Yoshiki Kuramoto, who in 1975 first articulated a mathematical model that describes why, how and when large systems of similar oscillators (things that cycle automatically and repeatedly) can mutually synchronize, without any single coordinating force or leader. With Kuramoto’s legacy (as well as the earlier work of Norbert Wiener and Art Winfree) as a starting point, this project aims to activate and transform the social networks and urban dynamics associated with cycling, by fusing this existing system with one biased towards synchronization. Grafting this artificial system of synchronized blinking lights onto a real-world urban transportation system does two things: first, it calls attention to the individual act of cycling as a component of a larger dynamic system with its own unique patterns and qualities, and second, it momentarily transforms that system through a subtle but pointed intervention in urban social space.

This is a really fun project, and it is amazing how quickly these lights synchronize in such large numbers.  The project is completely open source hardware, and the mastermind behind the project, David Rueter, has put the design files and code on Github.

Make sure to check out the build process on the project blog.  Lots of great pictures!



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1 Comment

  1. I can’t help but look at this and wonder, could I subert the communications that they’re using for synchronization to send messages in morse code?

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