Light Waves is a interactive light installation created with the intention of utilizing light to emulate the poetic quality of the motion generated by wind blowing through reeds. It consists of more than 800 individually addressable LEDs, control hardware and flowers made from countless strands of optical fibers. The installation was part of a winter themed exhibition in a Copenhagen amusement park and exhibited alongside projects made for the Copenhagen light festival 2019.
The project is commissioned by a well established amusement park/garden in the heart of Copenhagen
Originally, I came up with this idea for this project when watching wind bending rush in a wavelike pattern on a exceptionally hot summers day. I was so fortunate to have actually recorded it. I thought it was absolutely spectacular and started wondering if this could be replicated with light.
Coincidentally, I was simultaneously getting familiar with technology used to control large scale LED installations and had just starting talking to a amusement park in regards to developing and producing concepts for them. I thought the motion had artistic merit and contained the poetic quality associated with the amusement park in question. Thus, I developed a small prototype to confirm whether this quality of motion could be translated into light and optical fiber. I think it worked pretty well and so did the amusement park. After some negotiation we agreed on the shape, location, interactivity, color, etc. of the installation and I began making it.
To get an idea of how to actually make the installation I started out in CAD. I mapped the shape of the installation onto pictures of where in installation would be located. Then I made the model so that it was ready to cut out on a CNC mill. I had cheap access to a large scale CNC mill and since I had to cut more than 1700 very precise holes I thought this would be a great opportunity to utilize CNC.
At this point I had to make some crucial decisions in regard to what kind of materials I'd like to make the installation from. It had to be relatively durable and able to tolerate large amounts of rain, yet it should not be too heavy or expensive. However, after much consideration I found PVC foam. A material that is pretty stiff and lightweight but also reasonably priced and rated for outdoor use. Now the CNC milling could begin. On a personal note, it is truly wonderful to just watch a machine do all the heavy lifting.
Now I could weld together a frame with the same outer measurements as the CNC cut PVC foam pieces. When this was done I could rivet pieces of thin galvanized steel on the site of the frame and finally put the pieces of PVC foam on top. This allowed me to put together the 8 modules just enough to to see if my calculations were correct and all the connecting angels would make a perfect ellipse. Except for a few minor corrections everything seem to line up nicely and I felt confident that the frame and PVC top pieces would later fit when bolted together and make a good looking ellipse.
After welding and riveting everything together it was now time to install the LEDś. The LEDś are the widely used WS2811 and comes coated in epoxy and with 100mm wire between each LED so that they are both waterproof and can be cut to any length. The holes in the PVC pieces were cut just a little bit smaller than the LED so that the LED would be held in a easy to install pressure fit.
To control the LEDś I went with the powerful Tinker Board S SBC for the animation, the Fadecandy platform for the actual LED update/data distribution and for the sensor updates I used the popular ESP32, but I guess any MCU will do. However, when testing the system it seemed as if the more LEDś I connected the more unstable the system would become. After a lot of investigation I realized that the wires feeding data to the individual modules were acting as transmitting and receiving antennas which meant that the LED control data become corrupted. This was an issue that I'd never encountered before. Luckily I had the opportunity to consult an electrical engineer with years of experience in wireless communication and he made me aware of a simple solution. This solution consisted of replacing the wires for some EMF shielded ones and attach ferrite cores onto the wire every 2 meters or so. For unknown and miraculous reasons this turned out to solve the issue completely and I could now focus on tweaking the code to my own and the customers satisfaction.
After weeks of hard work and serial crysis I was finally ready to transport all 8 modules making up the installation to where it was supposed to be running.